Throw Down Your Heart | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Throw Down Your Heart

Banjo-player Bela Fleck visits the instrument's homeland, Africa

This project would probably make a better soundtrack than a movie. Which isn't too harsh a criticism, since as a soundtrack, it would be fantastic. The premise here is simple: Despite its toothless-white-guy connotations, the banjo comes from Africa -- and Grammy-winning banjo genius Bela Fleck is bringing it home. But really, that mission is mostly just an excuse for Fleck to jam with musicians across the continent. Along the way, we see marimbas so large it takes a village to play them, meet the Ray Charles of Tanzania, and watch Fleck's banjo duel with its long-lost relative, the akonting. The music is transcendent, mixing joy and sorrow so beautifully you almost can't tell which is which. ("Death is counting our ribs," one lyric hauntingly asserts.) But while director Sascha Paladino sometimes glimpses a larger truth through the trees, such ideas remain underdeveloped ... partly because Fleck himself is so awkward anywhere except on the fretboard. So for all its soaring performances, Heart begins to lag. Neither documentary nor concert film, it feels like a travelogue that runs 20 minutes too long ... and that might best be watched with your eyes closed. In English, and various languages, with subtitles. Fri., Sept. 18, through Sun., Sept. 20. Melwood

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