Gypsy Caravan: When the Road Bends...Tales of A Gypsy Caravan "You Cannot Walk Straight When The Road Bends..."-Romani Proverb
Shot by legendary cinematographer Albert Maysles, this dynamic musical documentary follows five Gypsy bands from four countries who unite for the Gypsy Caravan as they take their show around North America for a six-week tour, astounding every audience they meet. Their musical styles range from flamenco to brass band, Romanian violin to Indian folk. And with humor and soul in their voices, they celebrate the best in Gypsy culture and the diversity of the Romani people in an explosion of song and dance.
As the film follows the amazing performances and behind-the-scenes action from the tour created by World Music Institute, we discover the real lives of these musicians. We visit Macedonia, Romania, India and Spain, meet their families and see what music brings to their lives. The tales of these characters are woven between their performances - allowing us to understand and celebrate Romani culture and the prejudice of their shared ancestry.
The "Gypsy Caravan" tour extravaganza features performances by Macedonian diva and "Queen of the Gypsies" ESMA REDZEPOVA, traditional Indian folk troupe MAHARAJA, Romanian FANFARE CIOCARLIA, the violin wizardry of Romanian group TARAF DE HAIDOUKS and the ANTONIO EL PIPA FLAMENCO ENSEMBLE.
The sounds of Roma (Gypsy), a culture interminably misunderstood, oppressed and stigmatized, are increasingly heard on the dance floor, and have attracted fans like Johnny Depp, who is in the film. TIME Magazine declares, "Gypsy music is escaping its 'ghetto' in Romania to become a worldwide sensation."
Tribeca Film Festival's Steven Snyder writes, "Given extraordinary access to a world known by few outsiders, Dellal takes full advantage by reaching out to the community's key players, including a violin virtuoso who also must beg for change in order to keep his family afloat." This film is a celebration that will leave your toes tapping, your heart pumping and your soul uplifted by a glorious journey that is the Gypsy Caravan.
WHEN THE ROAD BENDS is an uplifting and moving documentary which explores the music, lives and heritage of five distinct Gypsy bands from around the world as they unite for the GYPSY CARAVAN, a six-week musical tour around North America that brings audiences to their feet.
Their musical styles range from flamenco to brass band, Romanian violin, Balkan pop, Indian folk, raga and jazz. With fire in their bellies and soul in their voices, they present the best in Gypsy music and the diversity of the Romani people in an explosion of music and dance.
The film follows the amazing performances and behind-the-scenes action of the concert tour arranged by World Music Institute, inviting us to travel with the musicians as they laugh, cry, argue, play and learn about each others' past hardships and future dreams. This moving progression of their relationships, reflected in their shared stories and jam sessions, is the backbone to the film and the tour.
As they befriend each other, they celebrate the majesty and glory of music while overcoming the prejudice of their shared ancestry. We explore the real lives of these musicians as we travel to their homes, meet their families and see what music brings to their lives a link to an ancient culture, a common language, a traditional career all of which is a stark and often painful contrast to life on the road. The personal drama and stories of these characters are interwoven with their performances, reflecting the imagery and emotion of their music, as we get to know them and their bands intimately.
From Romania we meet electrifying Taraf de Haïdouks, a band with many vocal fans all over the world, including the likes of Johnny Depp. The ages of the band members range from 22-80 and their albums and tours support much of their village. It is at home with them that we meet Nicolae, the 78-year-old patriarch who almost single-handedly supports, educates and feeds his extended family with his musical earnings.
Esma Redzepova from Macedonia, hailed as the Queen of Gypsies, has a voice full of joy, power and sadness. An institution in her own country for over 40 years, she has not only broken down many prejudicial barriers but also adopted and educated 47 children with her late husband.
Antonio El Pipa flamenco ensemble, a family troupe from Spain, is a sight to be seen - blending the power of Antonio's flamenco with the haunting sound of his aunt Juana la del Pipa's voice. We see them at their Flamenco school and discover the hardships that Juana suffered from her poor beginnings to the distress caused by her son's and husband's drug addiction.
Originating from India, the homeland of the Romani people, Maharaja is made up of poets, singers, musicians and a very unique dancer, all from varied castes. Harish turned to dance to feed his family when his parents died, and he is one of only a few artists in the world to perform the spectacular Rajasthani knee dance.
Fanfare Ciocarlia uniquely blends brass band arrangements with traditional Romanian Gypsy music, Turkish, and Arabic influences. The speed of their playing and thrill of their sound is legendary with DJ's playing their tunes on dance floors from New York to Berlin to Tokyo. The sales of the first album enabled them to bring electricity to their hometown. Such is the power of their music.
As a grand finale, the diverse yet related musical groups come together for a last song, bringing audiences to their feet. In contrast, the death and funeral of Nicolae, as he leaves his family and fellow musicians to fend for themselves, shows that the legacy will never die.
A culture interminably misunderstood, oppressed and stigmatized, Romani history is one of suffering and misery, but it is also one of the victories of human spirit over the blows of fate. Perhaps nowhere is this spirit better personified than by the musicians featured in Jasmine Dellal's feature length documentary, WHEN THE ROAD BENDS...TALES OF A GYPSY CARAVAN.
When director Jasmine Dellal attended the first Gypsy Caravan tour she described it as one of the most amazing experiences ever. Little did anyone know then, that the World Music Institute would create the 2001 Gypsy Caravan tour... and this time the director would have her cameras ready to roll!
After witnessing these amazing bands the music and atmosphere remained with her, but she wanted to know more. In 2001 Dellal casually mentioned the idea of following these musicians to legendary American cinematographer Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens, Salesman), renowned for his skill at shooting live music and intimate cinema vérité, and his enthusiastic response started a 5 year journey that would result in the spellbinding documentary, WHEN THE ROAD BENDS... tales of a GYPSY CARAVAN.
Jasmine had forged a close relationship with the world of the Rom whilst working on her previous feature, AMERICAN GYPSY. Drawing from this experience and the people she had met, Jasmine set out to make a film which was far more than a concert film or a road movie, but also a revealing investigation into the lives of the musicians and dancers in a world far removed from the international stage.
The overall aim was for the film to operate on three levels: luscious multi-camera concert film footage reveling in the musical performances; vérité scenes of musicians far away from the spotlight shot on DVCam at home in Spain, Macedonia, Romania and India; and backstage footage of the artists getting to know each other and developing friendships on the road. With the skills of cinematographers Albert Maysles and Alain de Halleuz these three elements provide a richness of texture, allowing the film's style and structure to remain clean and simple.
Five eclectic and compelling bands featured in the Gypsy Caravan film: two groups from Romania, Taraf de Haïdouks and Fanfare Ciocarlia; Antonio El Pipa Flamenco ensemble from Spain; singer Esma Redzepova from Macedonia; and from India, Maharaja. Their diverse, but equally captivating musical styles range from flamenco to brass band, Romanian violin to Indian folk, from raga to jazz.
As the musicians got to know each other, sharing instruments, exchanging and comparing family tales and customs, the tour thrilled audiences where-ever it traveled, with both dance-inducing numbers as well as songs full of sadness and regret.
Backstage on tour, Dellal had full access to the musicians' lives; living and traveling with them for the entire six weeks. The levels of trust that were built up over the tour is not only evident in the intimacy of the footage, but also in how much the artists were willing to share from their extraordinary personal lives.
The tour bus is in an incredible equalizer; as both the film crew and musicians had exactly the same rigorous schedule of late concert nights and dawn calls. The musicians even came to refer to Dellal's camera as her instrument. There were the occasional disputes that traveling so closely together can cause, but the continued humour of the tour manager and Maharaja, who consistently had smiles on their faces, managed to alleviate any ongoing tensions.
But all the way through the tour Dellal was aware that to truly communicate this experience and understand the music be it a haunting ballad or an upbeat number the audience must understand the musicians' lives and history.
The fascinating contrasts between the musicians? personal and professional lives that the film explores offers a rare window to look beyond the stereotypes of Gypsies as thieves and nomads. The tour allows us to discover how much we have in common language and history, traditions and dreams, and of course the music.
From New York to Miami, from Austin to San Francisco, WHEN THE ROAD BENDS journeys with these talented Gypsy musicians, but the camera does not just remain in the United States, it ventures into beautiful and often poor regions of the world including Romania, Macedonia, Spain and India.
Though the artists where enthusiastic about their concerts being filmed, they were initially hesitant about revealing their personal lives, but they soon warmed to Dellal and her approach to filming, the results of which are beautifully crafted and detailed portraits. These intimate and revealing portraits interweave into the concert and tour footage as the film visits the musicians? home towns and villages where we not only see suffering, poverty, and racism, but also a shared delight in family, a determination to improve life for their children and the magical spark that occurs when artists play music for their friends and families, rather than on stage.
Each portrait feels like a short story, but when you reach the lively finale of the film you come to realize that you have just read a complete novel, with each chapter informing the next to create an arresting narrative more powerful than the sum of its parts.
Finding local crews who weren't prejudiced towards the Gypsy populations was a challenge, but once the team was in place a truly original view of these artists' lives was captured on camera.
India is the beginning of WHEN THE ROAD BENDS, it is the homeland of the Rom and it is where we meet Harish, a male dancer who spends hours putting on make-up, skirts and jewels for each show. He?s a handsome man of thirty and the unofficial group leader because he speaks English and can find an Indian restaurant close to any concert hall in America and Europe. When his sequined skirts swirl around the floor most spectators see him as a striking woman and Harish obviously enjoys this feminine role. Yet in the tiny kitchen of his family home in Jaiselmer, we see Harish explain, without a hint of self-pity, that he only began dancing to support the family after his parents died young.
Across the world in Macedonia, we visit the diva who is recognized throughout the Romani world as the musical "Queen of the Gypsies". Esma Redzepova is a short, round woman in her early fifties whose smile disarms you with her distinct beauty. Proud of her Romani heritage Esma helped to break down many barriers facing her people; at the age of 13 she was already famous in Yugoslavia, and her marriage to a non-Gypsy at a high profile mixed wedding caused scandal and eventual acceptance in both communities. Tears come to her eyes as she speaks of her beloved late husband, Stevo. Together they adopted 47 children and trained them to follow in their musical footsteps. Today this pioneer is a cultural and political hero, nominated three times for the Nobel Prize, and beloved and respected for her tireless advocacy for Romani rights.
Nicolae Neacsu of Taraf de Haïdouks has performed to big international audiences and for Hollywood cameras. His gnarled fingers drag along an intentionally broken violin string creating an eerie growl that hushes the crowd and then brings them to their feet with applause then we meet him at home with his family. With very little musician work in Romania, Neacsu. at age 78, is the families main source of income, but a few weeks later we return to the village to film Neacsu?s funeral. It is a spectacular procession of hundreds of musicians. His granddaughter, one of his best students, joins in with the flowing generations of musicians paying a last homage to their patriarch.
Also a member of Taraf de Haïdouks, we meet Caliu whose speed and skill on the violin, not to mention his charm, have entranced audiences from New York to Tokyo. The magic of stardom vanishes as Caliu returns home to Romania to find that his son must marry a 13-year-old girl in order to protect the honor of both families. Love for his family soon overrides other concerns. The resulting party is a joyous and raucous occasion.
Romania is also the home of Fanfare Ciocarlia, in a mountain village where honking geese waddle across the lone railway track this brass ensemble plays fast energetic music with influences from around the world. It is here in Zece Prajini that we meet Ioan, the oldest member of the band, whose simple home, though grand for their village, is all the comfort he needs though it contrasts greatly with the hotels of their American tour. Ioan recounts that their first foreign tour after the end of communist rule surprised them immensely expecting abuse for being Gypsies, they were embraced as they captivated the audience with their music, and they continue to do so.
In the flamenco group, we focus on choreographer/dancer Antonio El Pipa, and his aunt Juana whose gravelly voice has been belting out flamenco since she was five years old and whose seven children all sing and dance just as her own parents and grandparents did. Juana's raspy, natural voice contrasts with Antonio?s rehearsed, measured style. We visit with Juana in her tenement apartment, where the star is a dedicated mother pestering her son over his eating and school habits and we learn how religion helped her after drug addiction nearly destroyed her husband and another son. It is centuries of pain that Juana evokes with her deep singing voice, rich with the duende, or soul, that moves her to perform.
By the end of this journey we see that the Romani people have moved on from the years of poverty and persecution since their ancestors left North India to be a culturally celebrated and praised Diaspora, no more so than in the field music, so mesmerizingly displayed in this film.
ABOUT DIRECTOR JASMINE DELLAL Jasmine Dellal grew up in England and spent much of her childhood with grandparents in a south Indian village. After studying French & Spanish at Oxford University, she made short films for her Masters at U.C. Berkeley and won a student Emmy for a profile of a homeless photographer. Dellal's teacher and mentor in California was the acclaimed Marlon Riggs, with whom she worked on his final feature "Black Is...Black Ain't." In the early 1990s, Dellal stumbled on a book about "Gypsies" which ended up launching her on a decade of Romani filmmaking.
Dellal directed, produced, wrote & edited her first feature documentary, "AMERICAN GYPSY: a stranger in everybody's land" (which had an arthouse theatrical release; played dozens of festivals worldwide; won awards; and aired on PBS's prestigious POV series, drawing the season's highest ratings). Dellal founded Little Dust Productions to make artistic films with a social conscience. Now based in New York, she teaches occasional classes in the USA and Europe, and enjoys guiding new directors to create their own films.
2006 - WHEN THE ROAD BENDS... tales of a Gypsy Caravan
2000 - AMERICAN GYPSY: a stranger in everybody's land
1993 - SHE SAYS
1991 - IN HIS OWN IMAGE
FEATURE INTERVIEW with Director
In-depth interview about making this film and films in general, by Jason Whyte for EFilmCritic.com