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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Playing for Change (review)

It’s like a concert film shot on the streets and in the subways of America’s legendary music cities, a valentine to the strummers and singers and hornblowers of Los Angeles, New Orleans (pre-Katrina), and New York. Life on the artistic fringes isn’t easy for these musicians, from jazz bands in the Big Easy to singer-songwriters in the Big Apple, but the passion and dedication they exude as they play for the camera — all the music was shot live — and justify their tumultuous existences as non-corporate drones is a wonderful testimony to what used to be considered a valid American dream: living a creative, entrepreneurial life. “It’s the most free lifestyle I can come up with… Freedom or money? I’ll take the freedom,” says one New Orleans musician. Produced for the Sundance Channel, this is, however, one of those movies that will either strike you as revelatory, if encountering street musicians is not within your daily purview, or sort of obvious, if you’re one of the commuters rolling your eyes when the bongo guys get on your subway car and annoy you by interrupting your reading, for all that you may support quirky artistic lifestyles. Among the extras are a tribute to New Orleans musicians, interviews with Keb’Mo’ and Robert M. Young, and more. A portion of the profits from the sales of the DVD go to Habitat for Humanity’s Musician’s Village in New Orleans.

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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