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David Byrne produces “Contemporary Color” at Tribeca

Contemporary Color
USA, Documentary, 2016
Directed by Bill Ross and Turner Ross

By Shani R. Friedman

When a group of flag-twirling, rifle-tossing high schoolers sought out musician David Byrne to use one of his songs for a competition, he asked them to send him footage of what they were doing. When he got the DVD he thought, “What the hell is this stuff? Flags. Why have I never heard of it?” It was the Colour Guard World Championships from Dayton.

Colour Guards are costumed teams that perform synchronized routines with sabers, rifles and flags. Byrne was so taken with what co-director Turner Ross refers to as an “uncelebrated art form” that he decided to put a plan into action. Noting that the performances were done to music, he mused “I know some musicians. Maybe we can do this live.”

With his new producer hat on, he got in touch with a wide range of singers including St. Vincent, Lucius, Ad Roc, Devonte Hynes and Nelly Furtado. NPR’s Ira Glass was also part of the experience, conducting intimate, moving interviews with the high-schoolers. He had the artists compose original music for the team they were paired up with: there were ten teams – 8 from the US and two from Canada. The color guards then practiced with the music over 10 months before all coming together at the Barclays Center last June to perform. However, it wasn’t until the day of the event in Brooklyn that the teams and musicians were face to face.

The US teams – all from the tri-state, were fantastic. The all-girl team from Mechanicsburg got my highest marks for their routine and their incredibly inventive multi-colored bodysuits. But for this Canadian, I have a soft spot for the teams from Ontario and Quebec. Furtado, who had seemingly fallen off the radar for a while, performed with Ventures, who twirled my favorite flags. And when Les Eclipse took to the floor, Byrne, St. Vincent and Lucius accompanied them, which was really quite spectacular to watch.

These teens are not the jocks or the prom queens of their schools and they don’t seem to care about any of that. As Byrne succinctly put it, “This is a place where these kids are the heroes.” They have clearly put a tremendous amount of heart and sweat into their countless hours in the Color Guard. For these teens, many of whom were about to graduate high school, their trip to the Barclays Center was the last time they would be performing together. What a wonderful tribute to all their innovations, their passion and this chapter in their lives.

Remaining screenings are April 20th at 4:45 and April 21st at 8:00.

Check https://tribecafilm.com/festival for all the details.

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