Initially born as a session-based web series, 'The 78 Project Movie' follows Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright as they travel across the US with their vintage Presto recorder, allowing the duo to capture unique sessions from a variety of musicians. At times, the results are magical, and even liberating despite the pressures of recording just a single take. Regardless, witnessing the analogue approach is wonderfully refreshing to both artist and viewer alike.
Inspired by field recordist Alan Lomax, Steyermark and Jones Wright sought to recreate the spirit of Lomax's recordings - asking the contemporary artists involved to cover traditional folk fare alongside their own material. Armed with a single microphone and one 78 record per artist, using the 1930s Presto recorder provided a unique set of pressures and limitations. Yet the joy demonstrably brought to the faces of the musicians involved is utterly delightful.
The array of musicians brought to the big screen is equally delightful, ranging from acclaimed actor John C Reilly to Heavenly Records' Sea Of Bees. Of particular note is a dazzling, if slightly disturbing, spoon-laden performance by Coati Mundi, formerly of Kid Creole And The Coconuts. Perhaps Mundi's lack of inhibition is partly linked to recording in the comfort of his own kitchen - a freedom encouraged by Steyermark and Jones Wright, and one which allows the artists to open up about their musical and personal histories.
While the documentary could loosely be described as a "road trip movie", the filmmakers also provide a suitable historical background to proceedings, taking in visits to musical archives as well as Presto historians. The narrative becomes slightly haphazard as a result but this context takes us on a journey of learning and appreciation to mirror the physical journey made by Steyermaker and Jones Wright. A journey that was certainly worthwhile.
'The 78 Project Movie' had its international premiere at the 58th BFI London Film Festival. Find more info and remaining screenings at bfi.org.uk/lff.