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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

ETSU faculty's "Banjo Romantika' shown at Asheville Cinema Festival

Marco Cermak, one of the featured musicians, in an image from the film
Marco Cermak, one of the featured musicians, in an image from the film

November 26, 2014

The documentary "Banjo Romantika: American Bluegrass and the Czech Imagination" produced by two East Tennessee State University faculty members was screened during the Asheville Cinema Festival in November.

The documentary was produced by Dr. Lee Bidgood, an assistant professor of bluegrass, old-time and country music studies in the ETSU department of Appalachian studies, and Shara Lange, who leads the radio, television, video and film division in ETSU's department of mass communication.

Filmed primarily in the Czech Republic in 2011, "Banjo Romantika" highlights Czech musicians who are part of the global interest in bluegrass music. It also features Bidgood's performance of original Czech bluegrass songs filmed at the Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee.

""Banjo Romantika' introduces viewers to Czechs who first heard bluegrass when the Armed Forces Network broadcast American music for soldiers," said Bidgood, who has studied and performed extensively in the Czech Republic. "The music represented freedom to dissatisfied Czechs living in a communist state, and their love for the music was solidified when Pete Seeger visited and performed in 1964.

"Inspired by classic American bluegrass sounds, an assortment of musicians from across the formerly communist nation have melded the past, the political and the present into a lively musical tradition entirely its own."

Post-production work was done at ETSU, and the film was completed in 2013.

The 65-minute film has been screened at the Down Home as well as at the Virginia Film Festival, Nashville International Film Festival and On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Fest. It was also selected for screening this fall at the International Bluegrass Music Association's inaugural World of Bluegrass Film Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The documentary was produced with the aid of a grant from the university's Research Development Committee. A second RDC grant is now helping Bidgood and Lange prepare the film for screening on East Tennessee PBS.

The producers sent "Banjo Romantika" to Russ Manning at East Tennessee PBS, who, according to Lange, is a strong supporter of local filmmakers and was excited about showing the documentary regionally.

In preparation for this, Bidgood and Lange are using the funding from their RDC grant to cover closed captioning, a music supervisor, tape production and acquiring archival footage from national archives. ETSU students will also help in various areas of production and research.

"This opportunity to broadcast our film on public television will provide valuable exposure for ETSU," Bidgood said. "It helps us to contribute to public scholarship and will garner a wider audience for the film. Also, students involved in the project will learn first-hand about the process of preparing a project for PBS."

Topics: Film