|Tony Trischka plays in the Czech Republic. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber|
The Banjo Project written up in the Boston Globe -- This is going to be a great film -- I hope it takes into consideration the worldwide appeal of the banjo, and in particular the many banjo players in the Czech Republic and Japan!
[Marc] Fields, who lives in Concord and teaches documentary and studio television production at Emerson College, is going on his ninth year of making “The Banjo Project: The Story of America’s Instrument.’’When it’s finished — and Fields swears he’s getting close — it promises to be the most in-depth visual portrait of the subject, encapsulating more than 250 years of history and restoring dignity to the instrument’s often misunderstood reputation. From the banjo’s origins in Africa to its role in modern music, the film burrows deep into issues of race (including its rise in popularity through minstrel shows), as well as class, regionalism, and gender.
“It’s America’s quintessential instrument,’’ Fields says over coffee last week near his office at Emerson. “On one hand, it’s part of the music that we invented, and at the same time it has all these negative and positive associations. You can appreciate that it speaks to concrete American experiences, but it also speaks to things we’d rather not be reminded of.’’
To say the project has been a labor of love is beside the point.
“Let’s put it this way: If I had known how big it was when I started, I wouldn’t have done it,’’ he says, before cracking a joke about how he had a full head of hair when he started it in 2002. “Other people have tried something like this, but I outlasted them. I feel like I’m going to be the one to tell this story.’’
It’s a strange mission for someone who doesn’t even play the banjo. But having worked on other music documentaries, Fields recognized the subject was fraught with a rich narrative that should be told.
“It’s a hard job,’’ says banjo master Tony Trischka, who’s been involved since the film’s beginning as its music director. “This is the first major undertaking to tell the banjo’s story. It’s not sexy like the Civil War, but it’s part of America and its social history. Even after all the work that’s been done, people still think of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘Deliverance’ when you talk about the banjo.’’