Thursday, March 24, 2011

Documentary: "Following the Ninth - In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony"

Kerry Candaele, producer, writer and director (Battle Hymns Productions, LLC) speaks about his documentary "Following the Ninth - In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony." Kerry is originally from Vancouver, he attended California State University Chico, U C Santa Barbara, and Columbia University where he was a Richard Hofstadter Fellow and President’s Fellow in U.S. history. He has also worked all over the world (including China, East Timor, Guatemala, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa, Gaza, and the West Bank) for the Democracy Council,  an NGO dedicated to peaceful reform in developing nations.

You are working on the documentary "Following the Ninth".What inspired you to this project and what is it about?

Kerry: I was inspired to begin a film about Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and it's global impact for two primary reasons. The first is the music itself. The first time I heard the Ninth, I thought it was as powerful and profound as the best of any popular music that one hears today. And as I grew to young adulthood during the 1960s and early 70s, my musical influences came from the great rock and roll artists of that period, most notably the Beatles and Bob Dylan. So in a sense I was surprised by the Ninth's capacity to move me at the depths of my soul, as I didn't come from a background where classical music was a household item. 

The second reason for my attraction to the Ninth as a cinematic possibility is the man behind the music. Beethoven biography is, simply put, the material of justified legend. In brief, here is a man who at the height of his musical powers confronted a cosmic joke: he started to go deaf, to lose the one sense that we imagine would be the most critical for a composer of his stature. By the time he composed the Ninth, his final symphony in 1824 and just three years before his death, he could have added up all his suffering and come to the conclusion that life was a bust, an absurd con, and that it would be fine and just to write music that reflected these existential facts. But instead Beethoven wrote a symphony about human connection across all borders, about how art delivers us from fear, pain, heartbreak and wretchedness. Beethoven composed a Symphony about all these emotions and experiences, but settled on joy as the final statement for the Ninth, about how music can heal and repair. 

Finally, after hearing the music and studying his life, I found that the Ninth had a role in some important world events. Students at Tiananmen Square in 1989 were playing the Ninth over makeshift loudspeakers as the Chinese army was called in to crush their movement for freedom. In Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, women would march in the streets to the torture prisons while singing a version of the "Ode To Joy," part of the final triumphant fourth movement. In Japan, a nation that has embraced the Ninth like no other, every December hundreds of Ninth concerts are performed, sometimes with 10,000 people in the chorus. 

I then, in a leap of faith, decided to make Following The Ninth. 

What were the hardest and the best parts about this project?

Kerry: The best part of making any documentary film is meeting people who are willing to share part of their lives with me. Making a documentary is a decidedly more interesting way to travel. The individuals in this film took me into their homes, introduced me to others who shared part of their personal histories, and, most importantly, they told me stories, often intimate and moving stories, about how Beethoven's music transformed their lives in some way. Connecting with people at that level is the big payoff. And who would not enjoy traveling around the world to Japan, Chile, South Africa, and various European countries with music as the subject of their art? I also believe that a film crew should have fun on the job. And, indeed, we had a lot of fun making this film, whether it was exploring Shinto temples in the mountains of Japan, or drinking copious amounts of Chilean wine with a group of new friends on the southern Island of Chile.  

The most difficult part for an independent filmmaker is the perennial one: raising money. I had to go out and shoot, come home to raise money, and repeat a routine that can be both discouraging and a good way to sap inspiration. I thought the film would take two years to shoot. It took four. 

Being a filmmaker is hard today.Do you agree?

Kerry: Yes. If you are not backed by a big studio and you don't have a trust fund from which to draw, there is no way around the obstacles, especially for a film that requires travel to several countries. One has to make a long-shot gamble. With such long odds, it's best to make sure that you love the process, because the monetary payoff is, of course, never guaranteed.  

Was filmmaking always your passion?

Kerry: No. I have many passions. I love the study of history, for example, which dovetails nicely with filmmaking. I have taught history at various colleges, and I still occasionally put fingers to the keyboard to work on books and articles.  I also have a perhaps unhealthy attraction to politics, both domestic and international, which also connects to the type of projects I enjoy. My passion for music is a given. The same is true for my family and close friends. 

Your advice to young artists would be...?
Kerry: Cliches are rarely useful for complicated lives in a complex world, but the one about doing what you love and accepting what follows seems to be spot on. I don't think anyone would enjoy the prospect of arriving at the end of life and muttering "I shouda...." It's not at all easy, and the journey is never complete, but Nietzsche's admonition to "become who you are" is worth contemplating. Just ask Beethoven.


  1. Great interview - I am definitely looking forward to this movie. The trailer alone almost made me cry!

  2. Yes, already the trailer is really powerful!



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