When director Jasmine Dellal attended the first Gypsy Caravan tour she described it as
one of the most amazing experiences ever. Little did anyone know then, that the World Music Institute would create the 2001 Gypsy Caravan tour... and this time the director would have her cameras ready to roll!
After witnessing these amazing bands the music and atmosphere remained with her, but
she wanted to know more. In 2001 Dellal casually mentioned the idea of following these
musicians to legendary American cinematographer Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens,
Salesman), renowned for his skill at shooting live music and intimate cinema vérité, and
his enthusiastic response started a 5 year journey that would result in the spellbinding
documentary, WHEN THE ROAD BENDS... tales of a GYPSY CARAVAN.
Jasmine had forged a close relationship with the world of the Rom whilst working on her
previous feature, AMERICAN GYPSY.
Drawing from this experience and the people she had
met, Jasmine set out to make a film which was far more than a concert film or a road
movie, but also a revealing investigation into the lives of the musicians and dancers in
a world far removed from the international stage.
The overall aim was for the film to operate on three levels: luscious multi-camera
concert film footage reveling in the musical performances; vérité scenes of musicians
far away from the spotlight shot on DVCam at home in Spain, Macedonia, Romania and
India; and backstage footage of the artists getting to know each other and developing
friendships on the road. With the skills of cinematographers Albert Maysles and Alain
de Halleuz these three elements provide a richness of texture, allowing the film's style
and structure to remain clean and simple.
Five eclectic and compelling bands featured in the Gypsy Caravan film: two groups from
Romania, Taraf de Haïdouks and Fanfare Ciocarlia; Antonio El Pipa Flamenco ensemble
from Spain; singer Esma Redzepova from Macedonia; and from India, Maharaja. Their
diverse, but equally captivating musical styles range from flamenco to brass band, Romanian
violin to Indian folk, from raga to jazz.
As the musicians got to know each other, sharing instruments, exchanging and comparing
family tales and customs, the tour thrilled audiences where-ever it traveled, with both
dance-inducing numbers as well as songs full of sadness and regret.
Backstage on tour, Dellal had full access to the musicians' lives; living and traveling
with them for the entire six weeks. The levels of trust that were built up over the tour
is not only evident in the intimacy of the footage, but also in how much the artists were
willing to share from their extraordinary personal lives.
The tour bus is in an incredible equalizer; as both the film crew and musicians had
exactly the same rigorous schedule of late concert nights and dawn calls. The musicians
even came to refer to Dellal's camera as her instrument. There were the occasional
disputes that traveling so closely together can cause, but the continued humour of the
tour manager and Maharaja, who consistently had smiles on their faces, managed to alleviate
any ongoing tensions.
But all the way through the tour Dellal was aware that to truly communicate this experience
and understand the music be it a haunting ballad or an upbeat number the audience must
understand the musicians' lives and history.
The fascinating contrasts between the musicians? personal and professional lives that the
film explores offers a rare window to look beyond the stereotypes of Gypsies as thieves
and nomads. The tour allows us to discover how much we have in common language and history,
traditions and dreams, and of course the music.
From New York to Miami, from Austin to San Francisco, WHEN THE ROAD BENDS
journeys with these talented Gypsy musicians, but the camera does not just remain in the
United States, it ventures into beautiful and often poor regions of the world including
Romania, Macedonia, Spain and India.
Though the artists where enthusiastic about their concerts being filmed, they were
initially hesitant about revealing their personal lives, but they soon warmed to
Dellal and her approach to filming, the results of which are beautifully crafted and
detailed portraits. These intimate and revealing portraits interweave into the concert
and tour footage as the film visits the musicians? home towns and villages where we
not only see suffering, poverty, and racism, but also a shared delight in family, a
determination to improve life for their children and the magical spark that occurs
when artists play music for their friends and families, rather than on stage.
Each portrait feels like a short story, but when you reach the lively finale of the
film you come to realize that you have just read a complete novel, with each chapter
informing the next to create an arresting narrative more powerful than the sum of its parts.
Finding local crews who weren't prejudiced towards the Gypsy populations was a
challenge, but once the team was in place a truly original view of these artists' lives was captured on camera.
India is the beginning of WHEN THE ROAD BENDS, it is the homeland of the Rom and it
is where we meet Harish, a male dancer who spends hours putting on make-up, skirts and
jewels for each show. He?s a handsome man of thirty and the unofficial group leader
because he speaks English and can find an Indian restaurant close to any concert hall
in America and Europe. When his sequined skirts swirl around the floor most spectators
see him as a striking woman and Harish obviously enjoys this feminine role. Yet in
the tiny kitchen of his family home in Jaiselmer, we see Harish explain, without a hint
of self-pity, that he only began dancing to support the family after his parents died young.
Across the world in Macedonia, we visit the diva who is recognized throughout the
Romani world as the musical "Queen of the Gypsies". Esma Redzepova is a short, round
woman in her early fifties whose smile disarms you with her distinct beauty. Proud of
her Romani heritage Esma helped to break down many barriers facing her people; at the
age of 13 she was already famous in Yugoslavia, and her marriage to a non-Gypsy at a
high profile mixed wedding caused scandal and eventual acceptance in both communities.
Tears come to her eyes as she speaks of her beloved late husband, Stevo. Together they
adopted 47 children and trained them to follow in their musical footsteps. Today this
pioneer is a cultural and political hero, nominated three times for the Nobel Prize,
and beloved and respected for her tireless advocacy for Romani rights.
Nicolae Neacsu of Taraf de Haïdouks has performed to big international audiences and
for Hollywood cameras. His gnarled fingers drag along an intentionally broken violin
string creating an eerie growl that hushes the crowd and then brings them to their
feet with applause then we meet him at home with his family. With very little musician
work in Romania, Neacsu. at age 78, is the families main source of income, but a few
weeks later we return to the village to film Neacsu?s funeral. It is a spectacular
procession of hundreds of musicians. His granddaughter, one of his best students,
joins in with the flowing generations of musicians paying a last homage to their patriarch.
Also a member of Taraf de Haïdouks, we meet Caliu whose speed and skill on the violin,
not to mention his charm, have entranced audiences from New York to Tokyo. The magic of
stardom vanishes as Caliu returns home to Romania to find that his son must marry a
13-year-old girl in order to protect the honor of both families. Love for his family
soon overrides other concerns. The resulting party is a joyous and raucous occasion.
Romania is also the home of Fanfare Ciocarlia, in a mountain village where honking geese
waddle across the lone railway track this brass ensemble plays fast energetic music with
influences from around the world. It is here in Zece Prajini that we meet Ioan, the
oldest member of the band, whose simple home, though grand for their village, is all the
comfort he needs though it contrasts greatly with the hotels of their American tour.
Ioan recounts that their first foreign tour after the end of communist rule surprised
them immensely expecting abuse for being Gypsies, they were embraced as they captivated
the audience with their music, and they continue to do so.
In the flamenco group, we focus on choreographer/dancer Antonio El Pipa, and his aunt
Juana whose gravelly voice has been belting out flamenco since she was five years old
and whose seven children all sing and dance just as her own parents and grandparents
did. Juana's raspy, natural voice contrasts with Antonio?s rehearsed, measured style.
We visit with Juana in her tenement apartment, where the star is a dedicated mother
pestering her son over his eating and school habits and we learn how religion helped her
after drug addiction nearly destroyed her husband and another son. It is centuries of pain
that Juana evokes with her deep singing voice, rich with the duende, or soul, that moves
her to perform.
By the end of this journey we see that the Romani people have moved on from the years of
poverty and persecution since their ancestors left North India to be a culturally celebrated
and praised Diaspora, no more so than in the field music, so mesmerizingly displayed in this film.