‘River City Drumbeat’: A story of music and heart told one beat at a time | Women & Film

Posted 4/22/21

With every rolling snare, thumping bass, and crashing cymbal, a heart beat can be heard, steady and strong. Drums sound like strength and passion, giving music a soul.

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‘River City Drumbeat’: A story of music and heart told one beat at a time | Women & Film

“River City Drumbeat” presents a story of music, love, and legacy.
“River City Drumbeat” presents a story of music, love, and legacy.
Photos courtesy of Anne Flatté
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With every rolling snare, thumping bass, and crashing cymbal, a heart beat can be heard, steady and strong. Drums sound like strength and passion, giving music a soul.

The power of music is undeniable and the film “River City Drumbeat” depicts this power, telling the story of music, love, and legacy through the members of a Black youth drum corps in Louisville, Kentucky.

A creative collaboration between Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté, the co-directors “believe every child needs the chance to connect with the arts.”

“We felt so strongly, as parents and as artists, that we wanted a film that really shows what it takes to raise children, and the importance of arts education to every child,” Flatté said.

Illustrating the importance of mentorship and encouragement, the story of “River City Drumbeat” is what results when that connection with the arts is nurtured.

“It’s a very emotional story,” Flatté said.

“Music speaks to a part of us, and speaks to a part of myself, that is really beyond words,” she added.

With a goal to convey the journey of each of the film’s subjects, the film follows the drum corps’ leaders, mentors, as well as the young drummers who are navigating all of life’s changes.

The film introduces Edward “Nardie” White, the founder and leader of the co-ed after-school community drum corp. Drawing on Pan-African culture and music, his ultimate goal of the River City Drum Corps was to reach and mentor the youth of his neighborhood.

Now, after nearly three decades with the drum corps, Mr. White is stepping down. The film follows Mr. White’s final and transitional year as he trains his successor, a man whose own life was transformed by the River City Drum Corps. Throughout the film, the two men reflect on tragedy, triumph, and Mr. White’s legacy, the community lifeline he created in the form of a drum corp.

For many children, the River City Drum Corps has helped in navigating personal struggle and adversity. The film depicts this in the stories of high school seniors Imani and Jailen, and pre-teen Emily.

The dazzling, intimate stories of these talented youth and those who support them paint an inspiring picture of the power of art and community.

“What really drew me to the project was focusing on a community of really caring adults who were doing the best for the children in their community under difficult circumstances,” Flatté said.

“It was a very deep dive for many years into this story and I think it did change both me and Marlon on a personal level to get to know the people in the River City Drum Corps.”

They spent 18 months following the stories of the year-round drum corps, planning their production schedule around the drum corps’ schedule.

“We had a philosophy of filming,” Flatté added, “Marlon and I went in saying to ourselves that we did not know what the story was. We were going to learn what the story was from the people in the film.”

“It was a very powerful experience to make the film,” she explained.

“I continue to be inspired by the people in the film … Each person in the film is like a teacher for me,” she said.

That audiences get to know the drum corps members and connect with their personal stories, is the co-director’s desire: “I really hope that people who watch the film leave with a stronger sense of connection with the people in the film. I think film has the power to connect us all.”

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