Reviewed by AJ Miranda.
Call + Response is both a concert film and a documentary. The concert footage features a diverse range of artists (Cold War Kids, Rocco Deluca, Switchfoot and Talib Kweli, to name a few) and is shot in grainy black and white in a minimalistic studio setting. The documentary is about modern slavery: human trafficking, illegal labor and the child sex trade in the U.S. and around the world.
It’s an odd combination director Justin Dillon has put together—music and slavery. But, as he explains it, rock music owes its origins to the American slave trade; slaves sang spirituals, which influenced the blues, which in turn influenced rock ‘n’ roll.
A lifelong musician, Dillon anchors Call + Response as he’s shown interviewing celebrities and politicians (actress Ashley Judd, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) as well as performing with his band. In between some pretty stunning performances, we get an intro course in this under-reported human tragedy.
The first half of this 80-minute film is moslty informative, giving you basic facts about slavery in the 21st century (an estimated 73,000 slaves enter the U.S. every year). The second half trudges through telethon-like pleas for action and we-can-do-anything-we-put-our-minds-to affirmations.
Call + Response is a film best watched with a large group of people. I could see this being effective viewing as part of a university student group’s movie night. It’s great music mixed with entry-level knowledge about an important and little-known cause.
Musical highlights include Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Up To Dry” and The Scrolls’ acoustic cover of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” with string accompaniment. And Matisyahu is his ever-charismatic self, performing with his full band as well as delivering an acoustic ballad to close the film.