What Difference Does It Make?: Film Review

What Difference Does It Make?
Best suited for aspiring musicians with short attention spans.

Ralf Schmerberg collects fragmentary insights from the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy.

NEW YORK — An impressionistic trip through the fifteenth installment of the impressively ambitious Red Bull Music Academy, Ralf Schmerberg's What Difference Does It Make? interviews both aspiring amateurs and eminences grises about music as both an artistic ideal and a way of life. Location-specific without quite explaining how the annual event works, the doc isn't simply a promo piece but is too fragmented to have much value on its own. Special bookings may attract audiences, but the film will serve mostly to broaden content for the brand's online-streaming presence.

Though the operations of the educational event are barely touched on here, the RBMA is held in a different city each year; concerts and public Q&As coincide with closed seminars in which young musicians interact with each other and industry vets. We drop into these private events briefly, in scenes that recall many a reality-TV setup, but never get much feel for how they work or hear enough of participants' music to discover someone new.

What we do get is a stream of wise and/or amusing tidbits from stars ranging from Philip Glass to Lee Scratch Perry to Debbie Harry. Unsurprisingly, Brian Eno offers most of the interesting lines here, though the substantially less famous British bassist Malcolm Cecil steals some scenes, especially when recalling the moment when he understood the difference between an amateur and a professional.

Though editor Einar Snorri organizes his always sound-bitey shots into themes (fame, financial struggle, the peril of drugs), no idea is explored for more than a couple of minutes. The only really sustained subject here is New York City, where 2013's conference took place: The movie is blanketed with shots of creative street life, presenting a romantic view that many inhabitants of today's New York may not recognize.

Production Company: Mindpirates
Director: Ralf Schmerberg
Screenwriters: Easton West, Ralf Schmerberg
Producers: Nicolas Blankenhorn, Heiko Zwirner
Executive producers: Many Ameri, Ralf Schmerberg, Torsten Schmidt
Directors of photography: Kevin Klein, Ralf Schmerberg
Editor: Einar Snorri
No rating, 94 minutes