SXSW Film Review: 'The 78 Project Movie'

With a hiss, crackle, and pop, musicians get to turn back time

The ineffable romance of old recordings makes for magic in this self-produced account of Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright giving musicians the chance to record on an acetate disc.

Projects don't come more lo-fi or old-school than this, with Steyermark and Wright lugging their 1930s Presto recorder to a rural Mississippi chapel, a Topanga Canyon cabin, a Memphis nightclub, a kitchen in Cajun country, a sunflower patch in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens – wherever their subject wants – and simply recording them performing any folk song they choose in one take.

Though ostensibly documenting a road trip, the film eschews narrative to focus on the recording sessions, interrupting them only to visit spots offering historical context: recording archives, an acetate disc manufacturing plant, the homes of Presto collectors. Hovering just out of frame throughout is the ghost of Alan Lomax, the pioneering ethnomusicologist whose extensive field recordings of folk music inspired Steyermark and Wright and whose legacy they strive to honor.

But Lomax isn't what haunts The 78 Project Movie. Rather, it's the rich, gloriously imperfect sound of those antique discs. As the musicians listen to their 78s, they evince disbelief, as if they're hearing a record they made decades before they were born. They meet themselves in the past, and the moment's ripe with wonder.


The 78 Project Movie


24 Beats Per Second, World Premiere
Thursday, March 13, 7pm, Marchesa
Saturday, March 15, 2pm, Vimeo

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
<i>Hearts Beat Loud</i> When Nick Offerman’s Around
Hearts Beat Loud When Nick Offerman’s Around
Parks and Rec star talks Austin, breakdancing, and the state of humanity

Dan Gentile, June 22, 2018

SXSW Film Review: <i>Upgrade</i>
Review: Upgrade
Cyberpunk action thriller has a few hidden features

Richard Whittaker, March 19, 2018

More by Robert Faires
Primed for Some Literary Vibranium?
Primed for Some Literary Vibranium?
Readers say, "Austin African American Book Festival forever!"

June 22, 2018

Fair Youth Make Fairer Shakespeare
Fair Youth Make Fairer Shakespeare
Two fine chances to see young people make the Bard come alive

June 21, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW 2014, SXSW Film 2014, The 78 Project Movie, documentary, Alex Steyermark, review, Lavinia Jones Wright

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle