Throw Down Your Heart Directed by: Sascha Paladino Cast: Bela Fleck Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: Unrated Release Date: July 17, 2009
Plot: Musician Bela Fleck tours around Africa with his banjo to make an album. In each country, he seeks out local musicians to collaborate with.
Who’s It For? Fans of Bela Fleck or African music.
Expectations: I've heard the name Bela Fleck but I didn't know who he was, so I wasn't really expecting much.
Bela Fleck as himself: Though he's the central focus of the film and in almost every scene, Fleck does a lot more pickin' than talking. You could probably fit almost everything he says in the whole film into a paragraph. At one point a singer who has known Fleck for years says that he talks through his fingers, meaning his music, and that seems true. He's more eloquent as a musician than a speaker. Unfortunately, that doesn't make him a good focus for a documentary. I never really got a sense of who he was. He just seems like a nice guy who likes music, a lot. Perhaps to the exclusion of all else. Score: 4
Talking: Fleck doesn't have much to say, though some of the people he meets along the way are interesting. I especially enjoyed hearing from a 12 year old who wanted to be a griot like the other men in his family. But there wasn't enough of this, we'd get a little bit of background information and interview time and then back to the music. I wanted to hear more from the African musicians. Score: 4
Sights: Though shot on video, the sights of Africa are bright, brilliant and gorgeous. The clothes, the trees, the market. The camera manages to be where you want it to be most of the time. Score: 6
Sounds: The music is recorded excellently, though since he brings his own sound engineer along for the trip you'd expect no less. It's really impressive considering the variety of instruments involved, including a ginormous marimba and the ngoni, sort of a proto-banjo. Not to mention some really crazy singing and ululating. Definitely the highlight of this film. Score: 8
Best Scene: I really liked the young woman who played the thumb piano and her group of singers. She impressed me and their song was my favorite.
Ending: It pretty much just ends. And the trip is over, good bye. It's a natural ending but there's no great tying in moment. A record release or big concert or something would probably add a bit and make a more dramatic close. Sure it would be contrived, but the whole film is based around the creation of an album.
Questions: What's the plot? Where's the drama? Why should I care?
Rewatchability: If you wanted to rewatch, I'd recommend watching the individual performances.
Throw Down Your Heart doesn't really have a plot, it's just a travelogue that follows a couple of guys attempting to make an album. As such we never get a sense of who anyone is, we just watch people meet and make music. But because there isn't a plot or anything that really invested me in it, I got bored. I'm not going to say it's a bad film, but it's not a movie you can just go see without any knowledge of the band or performers and get something out of it. If you like Bela Fleck, I imagine you'll like it better.
Final Score: 5/10