Review by Sean Boelman
One of the most wonderful things about music is its potential as a medium to bring people together. Varda Bar-Kar’s new documentary Fandango at the Wall, inspired by the book and album of the same name, tells the story of a group of people who hope to do just that with their art.
The film follows the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra as they set out to organize a music festival at the border of Tijuana and San Diego, uniting people across both sides of the border with the love of music. It’s a really inspiring and uplifting story about people coming together to bring hope to the world in a time of darkness, something which is needed now more than ever.
On one hand, the movie is a wonderful love letter to Latino culture and how diverse it truly is. Exploring different Latino musical styles, with a particular focus on the son jarocho style of Veracruz, the film shows how, despite differences in how we express ourselves, we can come together to be one supportive people.
The highlights of the movie are very clearly the performances from the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. For the entirety of the film’s runtime, at just over ninety minutes, audiences will be treated to a soundtrack made by some of the best performers working today. Thankfully, since the album was released first, audiences can listen to this music again and again.
Bar-Kar also succeeds in capturing the visual aspects of this story in a captivating way. Although her focus is more on the musical side of things, the eponymous dance plays a large role in the narrative. And the way in which cinematographer Matt Porwoll captures these dances is consistently engaging.
Of course, one can’t ignore the political message inherent in the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra’s mission. With xenophobia and racism having taken hold of America in recent years, this project is an important reminder of the many connections that unite us, not only as neighbors, but as human beings.
That said, viewers will be left wanting to know more about the members of the group. It’s easy to admire them for their noble goals and the efforts they are taking to achieve them, but at times, this feels more like a public service announcement about a cause rather than a documentary following a group of musicians.
Fandango at the Wall is a touching and frequently beautiful music documentary. Varda Bar-Kar’s documentary succeeds both as a political statement and as a snapshot of a cause hoping to bring their culture to the world.
Fandango at the Wall screens at the Enzian Theater as part of the Florida Film Festival on August 17 at 6:30pm. It is also available virtually (geoblocked to Florida) for the entirety of the festival, which runs August 7-20 in Orlando, FL.