Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
PBS Arts: Mariachi High
is like Friday Night Lights, except
with more talented kids. For some Texas
high schools, Mariachi band competitions are a big, big deal. Small upstart Zapata High School has a winning
tradition, but they had some rebuilding to do after many top seniors
graduated. The Zapata Halcon ensemble is
out to recapture their title in Ilana Trachtman and Kim Connell’s documentary Mariachi High (promo here), which kicks off the
PBS Summer Arts Festival this coming Friday on most Public Broadcasting
as a program to keep students from dropping out, Texas’s High Mariachi bands have
been a resounding success. However, Zapata High School is not a blackboard
jungle. As presented by Trachtman and
Connell, the rural school is clean, orderly, and academically rigorous. Not so coincidentally, the school’s top students
also belong to Mariachi Halcon.
high expectations for the Zapata band members start with their director, former
professional musician Adrian Padilla.
Obviously a good coach, he never berates the students over wins and
losses, but accepts no excuses for an insufficiently entertaining show.
High, one suspects there is a longer
cut out there making the festival rounds.
The version airing Friday feels a little rushed, marching through
try-outs, an important tournament, and the state championship, only briefly
stopping for getting-to-know-you scenes with Padilla and the band. Still, to the filmmakers’ credit, they never
skimp on the music. Nor do they shy away from some of the more politically
incorrect, chauvinistic lyrics.
at its fifty-four minute broadcast running time, High would be a good companion film to Bruce Broder’s CHOPS, a film that should have gone
farther after screening at Tribeca five years ago. It is invigorating to see young people’s
enthusiasm for music in both films. It
is also a depressing reminder of how much was lost by the borderline criminal mismanagement
of the late lamented International Association of Jazz Education.
Aside from a concluding pitch for music
education funding, High wisely avoids
politics. Yet, the depiction of high
achieving college bound Hispanic students and their supportive parents might
well challenge a number of stereotypes out there. While not as rousing (or flat-out funky) as
Mark Landsman’s Thunder Soul, there
are plenty of feel good moments in Mariachi
High. Nice stuff for free TV, it
airs Friday (6/29) on New York’s Thirteen.
Labels: Documentary, Mariachi bands