Defying categorization, the geniuses of world music/klezmer fusion known as the Klezmatics have been breaking ground by continually redefining Jewish music for more than 20 years. And though not every band deserves its own movie, the New York-based Klezmatics are a perfect match for the medium. Their restless energy, infectious concert performances and on-camera candor make for a rousing behind-the-scenes documentary covering four up-and-down years in the life of the band.
Early scenes with lead vocalist Lorin Sklamberg, a sound archivist by day, poignantly establish the importance of the disappearing Yiddish language as a cultural touchstone both for klezmer music and for contemporary Jewish identity. But the music-making in the documentary soon takes center stage, and it is a revelation. In concert footage ranging from Milwaukee to Berlin to Israel, the band (whose members have sometimes changed over the years but whose essence has not) plumbs the depths of Yiddish song, pays tribute to Woody Guthrie’s Jewish oeuvre (yes, you read that right) and collaborates with all-star guests like Joshua Nelson and Chava Alberstein.
Director Erik Greenberg Anjou (A Cantor’s Tale, SFJFF 2005) also reveals the personal dramas underneath the music, as the band members struggle to maintain lives as independent American artists while raising families (traditional and non-traditional), facing middle age, battling with their manager and negotiating the prickly interpersonal dynamics of the ensemble in scenes that play out like couples therapy for an old married, uh, sextet. There’s even an emotional roots journey to Eastern Europe and the pursuit of a first-ever Grammy for klezmer music. The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground combines the best elements of a backstage doc, a concert film and an eye-opening lesson in remixing Jewish culture.—Peter L. Stein
Join members of the band and director Erik Greenberg Anjou for a rousing Closing Night at the Castro Theatre including goodie bags and the Mighty Wurlitzer; Berkeley Opening Night features a post-film reception in the Roda courtyard.
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