Directed by: Kathleen Ermitage
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Maria Athayde
Written and directed by Kathleen Ermitage “Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music” was an incredible surprise. In the past few years, I have been increasingly jaded with music documentaries. They are either puff pieces or exercises in self-aggrandizement like the recent “Jennifer Lopez: Halftime” documentary on Netflix. On occasion, you get documentaries like “Bleeding Audio” which offers an endearing and well-meaning look into the punk-rock band The Matches and the evolution of the music industry. “Mixtape Trilogy” falls somewhere in between and leans more towards the latter as it explores the transformative power of music and the bond that emerges between musicians and fans.
Before we even get to the title card, we are asked to think about one simple question – “what does music mean to me.” Then we get a supercut of sorts where various characters we meet later on in the documentary explain what music means to them. Answers include that music allows you to express yourself in ways words can never do, music is a friend, music is power, and music is a way to find your people. The common theme among these answers is that there is something inherently social and communicative about music.
After this brief introduction, the documentary really finds its footing as it splits into three parts. It narrates the relationship between musicians and lifelong fans. In part one, we meet Dylan Yellowlees, an activist and Indigo Girls fan who came to terms with her sexuality in the 90s – a time when it was not that common to come out – through a community of people who enjoyed the same music. Over time Dylan became friends with the band, and they developed an honest appreciation and friendship for one another. This appreciation led the band to preview the song “Go” to Dylan, who was inspired by the song’s blend of political activism and rock and roll to take up activism on her own. In part two, we are introduced to Garnette Cadogan, a Jamaican immigrant, essayist, and scholar who used music to escape from an abusive father. Cadogan’s journey intersects with Grammy-nominated composer and pianist Vijay Iyer, a first-generation American who, at times, faced an uphill battle to get accepted because of the type of music he was making. In part three, we get the stories of an architect, designer, and educator, Mike Ford, “The Hip Hop Architect,” and rapper Talib Kweli. This third section of the documentary was extraordinary and my favorite exploration of this theme of the power of music. In this section, Mike Ford talks about his vision for city planning through music. Ford argues that the strictures, rhythms, and patterns that show up in architecture are much like the rhythm, patterns, and flows we see in hip-hop. As a result of this passion for architecture and hip-hop, Ford founded a Hip-Hop Architecture Camp that works with cities and local governments to introduce underrepresented youth to architecture and reimagine architecture and urban design in a more inclusive and welcoming way. Even though “Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music” follows all the traditional beats of documentary filmmaking with a combination of archival footage and first-person interviews, it is the human stories that shine through.
“Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music” Trailer