A 4 minute trailer has been released from The Porchlight Sessions, a new documentary film from Anna Schwaber that seeks to provide a more accurate glimpse into the culture of bluegrass music and bluegrass people than is common provided in the pop culture.
The story is told primarily in an interview format, and Schwaber collected hours of footage with icons like Bobby Osborne, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson, as well as current touring artists like Dale Ann Bradley, Tim O’Brien, Abigail Washburn, Peter Rowan, and The Infamous Stringdusters, and instrument makers like Sim Daley and Robin Smith. She also visited festivals and captured plenty of music as well.
Using stunning visuals, compelling content and the sort of quick cuts and multiple images on screen that will be familiar to younger viewers and followers of independent film, this project is poised to penetrate the consciousness of potential bluegrass lovers who might not have discovered it otherwise.
Have a look at the trailer, followed by an interview with Anna Schwaber.
Can you explain a bit about your interest in bluegrass and old time music?
“Growing up in Nashville, the music was always in the backdrop for me and was not something I really paid too much attention to until just after college when I did a program in Australia. I befriended a banjo player in Canberra who had spent time in Nashville and loved a lot of the aspects of my up bringing that I had overlooked. Going on tour with his band and being a part of the fringe old-time/bluegrass scene there, I fell in love with the late night jam sessions and fireside hangs and was the way I connected to something that felt like home while I was abroad.
I’ve always been interested in music and have an extensive knowledge in many genres of music through working in music television, live event production, and as an on-air DJ. I think at some point you start to dive deeper into certain genres of music and Bluegrass has been exactly that for me. It has captured me and fascinated me over and over again…and why I spend so much time geeking out to obscure recordings that I discover that Neil Rosenberg or Mayne Smith might recommend.”
What was the impetus behind this project?
“I realized fairly early on that there was little compelling educational content about the region of the US that I grew up in. When I younger, I was an avid white-water kayaker and spent my summers on rivers in the Smokys while based in Brevard, NC. I remember the music as a soundtrack to these adventures, which was cool and all but we’d watch films like Deliverance before kayaking the river it was filmed on, the Chatooga River.
I really didn’t like how the people of the region were depicted in mainstream cinema and felt that a lot of my distaste for the music was steeped in the fact that is was poorly documented. As an artist and filmmaker, I saw this subject as my responsibility. I wanted everyone in the masses who equated bluegrass to the misleading concepts in Deliverance to see the beauty in the culture surrounding the music as I saw it.”
Anna says that she plans for the finished film to run just shy of 90 minutes, and that it has been a struggle to cull from the nearly 3 hour rough cut that she and editor Chris Cloyd made at the start of post-production. Once the work is completed, they have ambitious plans for exhibition and distribution.
“We hope to take the film through the film festival circuit as well as screening at bluegrass festivals. There is a lot of potential for The Porchlight Sessions as a branded business as well as a feature film, and aside from our goal of broadcast distribution, I would like to ultimately have a space for bluegrass in cinema and multimedia.”
How did you select the artists and other “talking heads” that appear in the film?
“In doing research, I reached out to a couple of session musicians in Nashville about who they felt I should include in the documentary as a starting point. Based on their recommendations, I began filming in 2009. Over the years, following current bands, trends, media outlets, and doing thorough research also kept me informed on who we should speak with.
There are a lot of musicians who I tried repeatedly to film, but coordinating shooting schedules with musicians’ tour schedules can be challenging. A lot of folks involved are from Nashville mostly because there is a concentration of bluegrass and old-time musicians living in or driving distance from there, but also because I used my parent’s house as a base for filming.
I’d say we met with just as many people from our other bases in Colorado and California.”