The Family Jams: Review

16 July 2010

Written by: Jean Kemshal-Bell

‘I know that this tour is going to be considered the magical tour of 2004…It’s a significant moment for culture’ – Antony Hegarty, The Family Jams.

Filmed in the summer of 2004, Kevin Barker’s The Family Jams chronicles a one of a kind, once in a lifetime joint tour of Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Vetiver,  three San Francisco-based musical acts .

Unashamedly authentic, The Family Jams shows us a group of artists who defy specific labelling with their genre-defining music,  but  are most aligned with the folk, new age category. At the time of filming, these are performers on the cusp of immense popularity, with a pure joy for performing yet with the wisdom of other worldly, seasoned veterans.

One member of the tour notes that this is the kind of tour that can never be replicated, as Newsom and Banhart’s fame will have grown by the time another tour can be performed. Venues would have to be larger and the management process would have to be stepped up.

Along the way we encounter a personal tragedy for Newsom, Banhart meeting psychedelic recording artist Linda Perhacs, the rescue of a dragonfly in an esky (they literally wouldn’t hurt a fly!) and a Fleetwood Mac hotel sing-a-long, as well as footage of their concert performances.

Within the opening minutes of the film, Barker dissects the notion of family, making the distinction between the family you are born into and the family you choose. Much more than just a travelogue diary of a tour, the following 80 minutes show the intimate journey Barker makes with his ‘chosen’ family, the touring musicians.

With special appearances from Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons), Noah Georgeson (The Pleased), The Family Jams is cinema verite at its best. A fly on the wall look at a group of bohemians, in the style of Don’t Look Back, Scorsese’s The Last Waltz and the films of the Maysles Brothers.

The Family Jams is playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival at 4.45pm, 24 July and 7pm, 2 August.

James Madden completed his Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, majoring in Cinema and Media Studies. He contributes to The Vine,, X and Y Magazine and is a co-founder of Film Blerg, where this review was originally published.