Caribbean Tales Film Festival

On the surface Gayle Wilmot’s documentary Hearts of Steel is the story of Canadians in the steelpan band JK Pan Vibrations and their preparations for a pan competition. Beneath the surface it is a tale of an ethnically and religiously diverse group of young people with heritages as diverse as Caribbean, Egyptian and Chilean being brought together as a family and experiencing the majesty of this Trinidadian musical instrument. And the infectious music will likely have viewers dancing and singing along as well.

Utah FIlm Awards

“Hearts of Steel” is an interesting documentary that follows a group of teens for four weeks as they practice and learn new material on steel instruments to get into competitions with others alike. Through the process they struggle with having to learn instruments and to get a knack for playing again as they only regroup every so often. It’s interesting because I wasn’t aware that these steel competitions existed; and if I did I would have thought it was for doing steelwork and judging frames of buildings… odd, I know, but can you blame me?

I appreciated how we get to follow the process of getting the group together. It’s like a first week of band camp where people are making noise and trying to get the feel for the work. Noise, upon noise, upon noise. That’s all you hear as people clink and clank about trying to get their groove. We see them struggle and you see the leaders get frustrated. Meanwhile the filmmakers interview members of this steel band and get their backstories on why they chose to join and what got them involved. The rest of the film is structured as such by showing progress, then cutting to interviews, then back to the progress and so on. What really makes this structure work is how we, as an audience, can actually hear the progression as these teens get better as every week goes by. By the end we are able to see their final outcome and I must say that it’s pretty impressive hearing the band as a whole.

One of the things I really liked about this documentary is it gave the teenagers an opportunity to shine and explain why they are so inspired by this band and the competition. Each person has a different reason and we actually get to see some of their lifestyles. A really interesting aspect to this element is we go so far to see religious practices of some of the members and how it may affect them and their performance with the band. That alone is something that not a lot of people consider when they think of hardships. I know a couple of the teenagers happen to be Muslims and their Ramadan fell on a long day of practicing in the sun… so they couldn’t eat anything and were exhausted as they practiced the tradition.

Another interesting thing I thought about while watching this is, how in the world did the filmmakers find this kind of thing to follow? It’s uncommon, right? I stated earlier that steel competition reminds me of actual framework regarding structures. I’m curious as to how the filmmakers found this group and what fascinates them the most about them.

I liked seeing a different kind of music being introduced to me. I liked seeing their progression all the way to the competition and being able to witness that alone. The way this is structured and the way it introduces these neat aspects made me really appreciate what the filmmakers were going for. Not going to lie, I’ll be a little disappointed if they don’t come out with a follow-up video. Allow us to witness their progression in the competition. Each year they get better and better, hypothetically of course; it doesn’t always work out as planned. Watch this and learn something new and interesting.