Jay-Z has always come across as a bit egotistical to me, so when I heard that Made in America starring and produced by the man himself was coming out, I just assumed it would be one long love letter to the self-proclaimed “Kurt Cobain of Hip-Hop”. However, Ron Howard, of last year’s fantastic Rush and eighties classic Willow, has crafted a balanced and ultimately enjoyable documentary about the Made in America festival in Philadelphia.
Rather than giving the limelight to Jay-Z, Ron Howard focuses on the importance of music and how it can change the lives of not just the acts, but the people around the acts such as the production designers and even the festival’s food vendors. There’s a vast amount of people that give their two cents on the festival. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with one of the roadies, a local who relies on summer events to make it through the barren winter. An interview with an elderly resident who lives next to the festival location was also an amusing highlight. It shows both sides of the argument, which is crucial to any documentary.
The power of music, and what a festival like this can do for everyone, was clearly a big theme for Howard when taking on the directorial role. The stars all have such different backgrounds and came into the music business in such different ways. Some arrived later in life, while others have performed since they could walk. There were several extremely inspirational interviews with performers who came from challenging backgrounds, but fought hard and achieved their dreams. To hear how humbled they felt to have transformed their lives was extremely refreshing – a real look behind their often showy stage persona. Ron Howard clearly has a passion for music and this passion radiates onto the screen. He loves meeting these people and loves opening up his musical spectrum.
As you would expect from Howard, it is filmed impeccably and the sound design and editing are top notch. The sound recreates the concert experience to the highest quality, generating an immersive experience.
The festival was acclaimed for its diversity, but the majority of screen time is taken up by hip-hop and rap artists. This is partly due to the event itself, but there was some alternative and rock bands that weren’t given the time they deserved. Pearl Jam and The Hives, for example, were glossed over to give more time to Rita Ora and Run-DMC – who received an enormous amount of screen time. I feel as if a variety of acts should have been given more time to express the diversity and the different cultures and identities of the crowd that Howard was clearly trying to get across.
The film also has some pacing issues. Sometimes it drags on a certain star that isn’t all that interesting and it zips past a star that has a lot of fascinating things to say. For example, Pearl Jam talk about the diversity of the festival in some detail, whereas Rita Ora pretty much uses it as a marketing tool to promote her album.
Ultimately, though, this is a successful documentary that shows the power that music has on everyone and the amount of happiness is brings to people. Ron Howard uses the festival to get across his own message of creativity and how it can get America out of the problems it’s going through today. It’s the perfect documentary for music lovers and those looking for a pick-me-up.