'Hearing is Believing': Film Review

A bare-bones introduction with copious performance footage.

Blind musical prodigy Rachel Flowers attracts some high-profile admirers in Lorenzo DeStefano's doc.

Disability can't derail exceptional gifts in Hearing is Believing, Lorenzo DeStefano's doc about blind multi-instrumentalist Rachel Flowers. A straightforward and sometimes dry but very boosterish account, the doc is best suited for special screenings in communities geared toward helping the blind. It will generate warm feelings there, although — since Flowers' innate gifts are not the sort one can acquire through simple determination or persistence — it likely has less value as an inspirational film than other docs of its sort.

Flowers was born 15 weeks premature to musician parents (and grandparents); a complication of that premature birth robbed her of her eyesight. But she was soon found to be a musical prodigy, a toddler who could play Bach fugues back on the piano just after listening a few times. She got the usual attention from hometown news stations, but was fortunate to mature in the YouTube age: By her teenage years, she was making videos of herself covering complicated pieces by people like ELP's Keith Emerson, and these prompted offers of help from professional musicians she'd never have met otherwise.

Having taught herself many woodwind instruments in addition to piano, Flowers sometimes made videos playing flute with one hand while accompanying herself on piano using the other. She's musically ambidextrous in one of the film's most enjoyable scenes, where an awestruck Arturo Sandoval jams with her once on piano with her on flute, then vice-versa.

Though there's obviously been some hardship in her life, DeStefano isn't focused on too much biographical detail beyond witnessing some mundane daily business (arranging for rides to school) and some superficial discussion of Rachel's awkwardness in social settings. Instead, the film offers an unusual number of long performance sequences — scenes that are often technically impressive, but play best for viewers whose taste runs to 1970s prog and Lite FM fare.

As she outgrew the child-prodigy label, Flowers began gigging with jazz bands like any other young musician and giving solo recitals. The biggest kick she has here is being invited by Dweezil Zappa (again, after he sees a video of her online) to join him in concert playing some of Frank Zappa's work. Capturing a Brooklyn show in which the crowd loved her, the film promises big things for a performer who's just getting started putting her own compositions out into the world.

Production company: Hearing is Believing Productions

Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Director-Producer: Lorenzo DeStefano

Executive producer: Patti Channer

Directors of photography: Nik Blaskovich, David Pu'u

Editor: Kevin D. Wilson

Composer: Rachel Flowers

103 minutes

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