MIFF Review: The Family Jams (2008)

By James Madden.

“I know that this tour is going to be considered the magical tour of 2004…It’s a significant moment for culture” – Antony Hegarty, The Family Jams.

Filmed in the summer of 2004, The Family Jams chronicles the one of a kind, once in a lifetime joint tour of Devendra Barhart, Joanna Newsom and Vetiver, captured by Kevin Barker.

Within the opening minutes of the film, Barker shows us scenes of his grandmother’s 100th birthday in Hawaii. Quickly dissecting the notion of family, Barker makes the distinction between the family you are born into, and the family you choose. It is the later of which becomes the focus of the following 80 minutes.

Adding to the travelogue diary of a tour, Barker invokes the essence of what family is:  “Family is a funny thing. It can provide you with the deepest comfort we know, and it can make us profoundly uncomfortable than just about anything in life.”

Along the way we encounter a personal tragedy for Newsom, Barhart meeting psychedelic recording artist Linda Perhacs, the rescue of a dragonfly in an esky (they literally wouldn’t hurt a fly!) and a Fleetwood Mac hotel sing-a-long, as well as footage of the actual concert performances.

Unashamedly authentic, The Family Jams shows us a group of artists who defying specific labelling into any group, but who become most aligned with the folk/new age category. However, at the time of filming, these are performers on the cusp of immense popularity, with a pure joy for performing, yet with the wisdom of other worldly seasoned veterans.

One member of the tour notes that this is the kind of tour that can never be replicated, as the fame of Newsom and Barhart will grow by the time another tour could be performed. Venues would have to be larger and the management process would have to be stepped up.

With special appearances from Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons),  Noah Georgeson (The Pleased), The Family Jams is cinema verite at its best; a fly on the wall look at a group of Bohemians, in the style of Don’t Look Back, Scorsese’s The Last Waltz and the films of the Maysles Brothers.

USA, dir: Kevin Barker, 81 mins.

The Family Jams will be playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday 24th July at 4.45pm and Monday 2 August 7pm.

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