Lee Bidgood has written an engaging essay in Ethnomusicology Review about collaborating with Shara Lange on the filming of Banjo Romantika, the documentary about Czech bluegrass music that I helped on and in which I appear as a “talking head.” He writes about the practical nuts-and-bolts of filming as well as his changing role as scholar and participant.
When Shara and I set out to film in the Czech Republic, my lingering sense of a scholarly ideal led me to impose a research-design structure to our slate of scheduled interviews and visits to performance events. This stance quickly met with the practicalities of fieldwork (which ranged from me not being able to successfully work the sophisticated camera, to a hardware glitch garbling a key bit of interview audio, etc.); at a more foundational level, however, my sense of the project sometimes conflicted with Lange’s goals as a filmmaker. Although dedicated to an observational perspective, and thus to a transparent presentation of her subjects, she also emphasized to me the importance of a dramatic “through-line” to the film, and spoke of the people we were filming not as colleagues or subjects but as “characters.” As I pushed for more and longer filmed interviews (thinking that more words from “characters” mouths would give them more agency and provide more information) she sought evocative moments, interactions, and scenes. […]
The most significant result of the documentary on my continuing fieldwork among Czech bluegrassers is an increased engagement with my projects. Discussing my plans for an English-language academic paper or monograph has never quickened my colleagues’ pulses. Seeing or hearing about the film has led many Czech people to contact me with questions, concerns, and feedback that I have been trying to elicit for years through more traditional means. We plan to broadcast the film on a television station in the Czech Republic, launching it into the wider discourse among fans and non-fans of bluegrass there.