Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., June 15, 2007
A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise Here) (Homevision)
What began as outsider-art practitioner Daniel Smith's senior thesis at Rutgers turned into an underground indie-music phenomenon and respected DIY label, Sounds Familyre. Smith's Danielson Famile soon found itself playing packed houses in and around their native New Jersey and beyond. This rock doc follows the outfit preparing for a European tour spring 2002, told from the perspective of Smith's four siblings. Director J.L. Aronson's uniquely crafted narrative charts the birth of the music, skepticism and acceptance the band faces as a Christian-identified band moving in a secular scene, and how the group defines family while troubling labels. While Smith sometimes comes across as a pompous windbag, especially when he sweetly opines about his faith and how it informs his music, it's hard not to feel sorry for him as the Famile slowly splinters. As his siblings start their own families and pursue other careers, longtime collaborator Sufjan Stevens rockets to stardom, and Smith is left alone, awkwardly recording himself in his home studio. Happily, the story ends on a poignant note: the May 2006 release of Danielson's most appealing album yet, Ships (Secretly Canadian), a reunion piece that finds the Famile on the road one last time.