EXCLUSIVE: Amid the timely and tenacious documentaries in the official selection at SXSW this year is one that feels more, well, timeless. Making the Grade, a love letter to the piano lesson but really much more, is the latest film from Ken Wardrop (Sundance award winner His & Hers, the 2016 Telluride pic Mom & Me), and it’s having its North American premiere Sunday in the fest’s 24 Beats Per Second section, which spotlights the sounds, culture and influence of music and musicians.
In the film, Wardrop, who studied at the National Film School of Ireland, points his camera on Ireland’s more than 30,000 students who prepare for graded piano exams each year. It’s a story of students’ musical passions and perseverance, of teachers’ dedication and patience, and of parental ambitions — all themes that resonate not just in Ireland. The resulting docu is a breath of fresh air, and with each child shown on a piano bench alongside a patient instructor also serving as a persistent reminder of the importance of music and arts in schools — and between notes makes one think of how to help them flourish again.
“One of the reasons that I decided to make this film was that growing up I never got to learn a musical instrument,” Wardrop says. “I always felt I had missed out, and making this film confirmed that. I saw in our characters such a sense of achievement and joy when they played even the simplest piece of music.”
Check out the clip above.