The first word that comes to mind after watching Fiddlin' is joy.
Fiddlin' is a celebration of people. Fiddlin' is a celebration of place, in this case, that place being Galax, Virginia. Fiddlin' is a celebration of the kind of music that American music was built upon even though it's not the kind of music you often hear on the radio these days.
It's "down-home" music and Fiddlin' is a "down-home" documentary.
Winner of 15 awards during its festival run and wrapping up a 50+ city theatrical tour, Fiddlin' is headed toward an AppleTV and Amazon release on November 19th with a DVD release to follow.
Indy audiences may very well remember Fiddlin' from its screening during the 2018 Heartland International Film Festival, where the feel-good film fits perfectly within the Heartland spirit. Sadly, I missed its Heartland screening and was excited to finally catch up to the film in advance of its VOD release.
Depending upon who you talk to, the music in Fiddlin' is either best known as "old-time" music or "old-timey," the latter being my personal favorite way of describing music that is often associated with bluegrass yet is really its own musical genre. The film is centered around the 80th Annual Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax, Virginia, the oldest fiddler's convention in the United States. While an appreciation for old-timey music may be beneficial, it's hardly necessary to appreciate and truly enjoy this life-affirming, human spirit celebrating documentary.
Sister filmmakers Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic were provided access to the Old Fiddler's Convention, the first time such access was approved and largely resulting from the fact that despite having both moved away they're from nearby Hillside and event organizers knew their grandfather.
Once a local, always a local.
Fiddlin' is an intuitive documentary and Simone, who directed the film, is an obviously intuitive filmmaker who's crafted the film around multiple meaningful story threads. While it would have been an obvious choice to wrap the film around the convention's esteemed competition, Simone and Vlasic, who co-wrote the film while Vlasic produced, have wisely followed the film's heart and soul by focusing much of the film's attention on the young kids who started out early and are stunningly talented yet often amazingly humble in that talent. Simone and Vlasic also focus on the area of Galax itself and exactly why it's so essential to this fiddler's convention, while they also pay attention to the challenges women face in a male-dominated field.
Not surprisingly, Fiddlin' pays more than a little attention to these women.
However, I can't deny it was truly the kids that kept me captivated. With unbridled enthusiasm and a spirit of collaboration, the kids present in Fiddlin' are passionate, talented, incredibly insightful, and appreciate the mentorship and friendships formed at the Old Fiddler's Convention.
Indeed, friendship seems to be a common theme at the Old Fiddler's Convention, a convention that is a regular stop for the fiddler's, and other instrumentalists, who attend every year and celebrate these once a year friendships.
Of course, Fiddlin' wouldn't really be a music documentary without the actual music and there's music in abundance throughout the film's 92-minute running time. It's the kind of music that started in the Appalachians over 200 years ago and while it's not the kind of music you often hear on the radio these days, it's the kind of music that is still popular in these parts and throughout the country and beyond as the convention gets attendees from England, Japan, and other countries.
While Fiddlin' is definitely a feel-good film, Simone isn't afraid to take the film in serious directions. From poignant reflections on lost friends to exploring the economic challenges in this Appalachian area, Fiddlin' occasionally digs deeper and it's a much better film because of it.
Joshua Ausley's lensing is pristine and vibrant, capturing the quiet electricity of this oft-unknown musical genre while also capturing the humanity underneath it. The film looks as good as it sounds.
Fiddlin' has quietly yet consistently picked up steam as it heads into awards season and it's not at all surprising that it's picked up 7 Audience Choice Awards, 2 Best Documentary Awards, 1 Best Feature Film Award, 2 Best Cinematography Awards, 1 Best Score Award, and 1 Best Music Award. Indeed, Fiddlin' is an all around great documentary that manages to look great and sound great without losing the authenticity vital for a film on old-time music.
There's much to love with Fiddlin', a film that celebrates people across all walks of life - all ages, all shapes and sizes, all races and much more. It's a film that recognizes that there's more too roots music than the music itself, though certainly the music is the integral component. Edited by Janice Hampton to bring that celebratory spirit to life, Fiddlin' will leave you feeling better about life and better about humanity.
Picked up by new indie distributor Utopia, Fiddlin' is one of the year's indie documentary gems.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic