Since 1935, the city of Galax, Virginia holds the Old Fiddler’s Convention to honor old time music, a folk genre born in the Appalachian. Sister filmmakers Julie Simone & Vicki Vlasic bring us along for the first time into the convention as it celebrates its 80th anniversary.
The documentary focuses on various people all connected by their love of music and their participation at the convention, showcasing their history with the music, the event and the community at large.
One thing that stands out from the very beginning is that all ages are present, and especially young kids. In their interviews, they all explain that they started out playing music at a very early age and have carried that passion since, looking up not always to their parents (some not even musicians) but to neighbors or other people from the community. The gathering is a great way for them to practice and find both friends and mentors.
And indeed, friendships strike up very easily, not only among the younger generations but also the older ones: all that all is needed is an instrument to join in on a jam session, where strangers can be at one with one another thanks to music.
Old time music and bluegrass (a genre that evolved from it) are obviously the core of the documentary and we hear different pieces all throughout. It is a great way to discover or rediscover it, especially as its history is also explained.
Even if you don’t particularly like this kind of music, the passion felt by the people playing it is enough to make the experience worthwhile. If you absolutely cannot stand this kind of music, however, better forget about this film altogether as you will be hearing it constantly (but why would you want to watch it in the first place then?).
The documentary’s best and most touching moments are not its musical ones however, but rather when the people interviewed reminisce about the past: about a friend who passed away and whose talent and friendship inspired those around them, about a childhood memory, an old guitar, pieces of history passed down from generation to generation and that they want to keep alive.
Fiddlin’ also touches upon the city of Galax and its significance to both the convention itself and its inhabitants (all of it being so intrinsically linked), as well as exploring issues like that of women trying to find a place in the male-dominated field. It is therefore a well-rounded documentary. On a filmmaking aspect it stays classic but effective, letting the people (and the music) speak for themselves.
If you’re not passionate about old time music, you might wonder if this is the film for you. But to enjoy it, you only have to be a little bit curious and let it guide you into this small world of its own.