Like the beer-soaked jamboree it depicts, Brasslands
is a loud and colorful experience. Produced by the communal filmmaking
society Meerkat Media Collective, the documentary follows hundreds of
bands and thousands of fans into the hills of Serbia for the 50th
anniversary of the world’s largest trumpet festival, a high-stakes music
contest that attracts listeners of all ages to soak in the guttural
horn blasts and frantic tango-esque rhythms of Balkan folk music. In
particular, the filmmakers follow two bands: The defending Serbian
champs, who train all year for these musical Olympics, and a ragtag
group of New Yorkers who are just happy to be there. The documentary
also briefly checks in with a band of Roma up-and-comers. The filmmakers
hint throughout at the complicated politics that underscore the entire
event: The 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, in particular, is a haunting
presence, occasionally coming to the fore in a conversation or a
newsreel. Given less prominent attention are Serbia’s internal politics,
with tensions between races hinted at yet frustratingly underdeveloped.
But as at the festival itself, the music is the film’s true focus, and Brasslands works
best as a catalog of fluttering trumpet solos and screaming fans.
Indeed, many of the handheld camera shots look eerily like archival
footage from Coachella—except all those teenagers in tank tops are
waving Serbian flags and gyrating to hundreds of oompahing tubas.
Critic’s Grade: B
SEE IT: Brasslands opens Friday at the Clinton Street Theater.