Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Ron Howard
Running time: 90 minutes
The duality isn't subtle: There's Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard asking hip-hop super mogul Jay Z what it was like growing up in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects. A good ol' boy from Duncan, Oklahoma, who once played a TV character named "Opie," inquiring about a former street hustler's law-breaking days, in earnest. And Jay Z's happy to answer—that kind of worlds-colliding dichotomy serves as the mission statement behind the Roc Nation mastermind's Made in America Festival, the two-day music extravaganza held on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philly last September and this past weekend. It's the man named Hov's attempt to bridge all cultural gaps, to get the rap dudes and dudettes to party with the electro/house kids and the Pearl Jam circuit. All peoples united in the name of good, live tunes, in the city of brotherly love. How apropos.
That's the central theme of Made in America (a Toronto International Film Festival premiere), Howard's documentary about the festival's 2012 inaugural celebration. The approach is simple: present a loosely tied together collection of interviews with the festival's many performers (including Jill Scott, Tyler, the Creator, Skrillex, Eddie Vedder, and Rita Ora) interspersed with stage-side concert footage. The framing device is Jay Z himself, who's own interviews open and close the film, as well as provide additional commentary for everyone else's sections. And the thesis, which is repeated ad nauseam by anyone who in the line of Howard's camera isn't necessarily surprising: In America, there shouldn't be any color lines, class divisions, or prejudices against one another's sexual preferences, since we've all dealt with our own unique yet universally relatable struggles. Let's all band together and recite Jay Z's "P.S.A. (Public Service Announcement)" with verve. La di da. Kumbaya. And all that good stuff.
Made in America's sum is lesser than its parts—while never boring, it's also rarely enlightening beyond what's already known about its individual artists or its commendable though one-note message. What Howard's film does do well, however, is occasionally show the candid sides of its participants. In one particularly funny scene, Howard sits down with Tyler, the Creator to learn more about the Odd Future movement. Somehow, the conversation turns to Howard's love for bright colors, a topic that clearly doesn't fascinate the younger, less reserved Tyler, who licks his lips and basically eye-fucks the camera, as if he's trying to seduce it. As that's happening, Howard is going on and on about colors, totally oblivious to what Tyler's doing. It's strange, awkward, and hilarious.
There are several other moments like that in Made in America, though none are as weird. But it'll all make for good television when Made in America premieres on Showtime on October 11. See for yourself.
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