Marching Band -- Film Review

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CANNES -- "Marching Band" is a mixed melody. A documentary about two U.S. collegiate marching bands, both from the state of Virginia, the film veers off from a musical glimpse into university marching bands, to a whole other movement, the recent U.S. presidential election.

Using the two bands as a prism to shed light on Barack Obama's historic rise to the presidency, French filmmaker's Claude Miller, Helena Cotinier and Pierre-Nicolas Durand took advantage of the electoral circumstances in the swing state of Virginia to add another rich layer to their tale.

The two bands of focus in this ambitious project are from two Virginia public universities: the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson and one of the country's most revered schools, and Virginia State University, an historically black institution, populated by many first-generation college students with disadvantaged backgrounds.

In this often stirring market entry, the three filmmakers take us straight into the full-blast middle of the marchers, capturing the energy and talent of the young musicians. Although the demographic make-up of the two bands contrasts vividly, they are on common ground in their kinship and bonding with their fellow band members. For the elite-scholars of UVA, membership in the band rounds out their college life with a strong bonding experience; for the students of VSU, membership in the band provides a respite from often tumultuous lives. For both, the band is like a family.

Mixing interviews with individual band members from both schools with inter-cuts of the respective campuses, which shows the drastic contrast in school environs, Miller, Cotinier and Durand convey the importance that membership in a group means to young students, regardless of social upbringing or academic ability.

Since "Marching Band" was filmed in the fall of 2008, when Barack Obama spoke in Richmond, the capital of that up-for-grabs electorate, Miller slants onto the political reverberations that accompany both band's seasons. While this tends to skew the narrative focus of the film, it is often moving, especially in a stirring crescendo as Virginia State students wildly celebrate the Obama victory. Their gleeful pride is itself a thunderous victory march.
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