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Balkans united via films, music in ‘Brasslands’ documentary | TribLIVE.com
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Balkans united via films, music in ‘Brasslands’ documentary

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, April 9, 2014 3:42 p.m
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Three Rivers Film Festival
'Brasslands,” a documentary about the wildly energetic, high-spirited brass bands of the Balkans

If we know anything about the group of small states and peoples in southeastern Europe known as the Balkans, it’s that they don’t always get along.

The word “Balkanization” has even come to signify disintegration of states into ever-smaller fragments, because of centuries of intractable ethnic, religious and territorial conflicts.

But there’s another thing that this unlucky part of the world is known for — a brand of exuberant, exciting brass-band dance music.

The movie “Brasslands,” opening this week at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room in Oakland, explores this thriving culture at the source. It follows several competitors at the world’s largest trumpet festival and competition, as half a million fans swarm the small, Serbian town of Guca.

“It’s really fast-paced, fast-moving dance music,” says Adam Pogoff, executive producer of “Brasslands.” “It really compels you to want to move. It’s played off the beat, with a syncopated feeling to it. It’s got different rhythms and harmonies than we’re used to in Western traditional and pop music.”

“Brasslands” follows the returning Serbian champion, 25-year-old trumpeter and bandleader Dejan Petrovic, and upstart Roma Gypsy trumpet virtuoso Demiran Cerimovic who fights an uphill battle against virulent prejudice just to make a living.

“In Europe and all over the world, Roma are one of the most marginalized ethnic groups — not even recognized as displaced people — and lacking in social services and education,” Pogoff says. “One area, maybe the only area in which they are venerated and given elevated status, is music. They’re seen as the masters of this genre, and are the most sought-after musicians.”

“Brasslands” also goes across the sea to the music’s burgeoning frontier, where a band from New York City, Zlatne Uste, is preparing to go to Guca for the competition — a mere decade after U.S. bombs rained down on Belgrade.

The film screened in November at the Three Rivers Film Festival, and did so well that Pittsburgh Filmmakers is bringing it back for an extended run.

Pogoff felt drawn to the music, and knew he wanted to do something with it for a long time.

“I was introduced to the music in high school, and in college studied it further — I majored in ethnomusicology,” he says. “I moved to New York City to be closer to the music, probably the largest (concentration) in the world. There’s enough of a scene that you can go out almost every night to hear it. I’d say it’s a younger crowd. It’s like a ball rolling constantly, picking up new followers.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7901 or mmachosky@tribweb.com.

Local brass

Balkan brass has more than a foothold in Pittsburgh, with bands like Lungs Face Feet and the Pandemic DJ night at Brillobox turning younger crowds onto the music.

Pandemic DJ Pete Spynda is doing a crowd-funding campaign (through indiegogo.com) for the Pittonkatonk Pittsburgh May Day Brass Festival and BBQ on May 3 at the Vietnam Veterans Pavilion, Schenley Park, Oakland. The event will feature bands from all over the country, including What Cheer? Brigade, Timbeleza, Detroit Party Marching Band, Lungs Face Feet and Black Bear Combo.

Details: www.pandemicpgh.com

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