The creative process is more of an uphill battle then we know some days…
In what has to be the most unexpectedly pleasant surprise of the year, American Symphony is an emotionally poignant portrait of an artist at the peak of his powers dealing with some real world issues that would rock even the most stalwart of souls to their very core.
Early in 2022, multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste finds himself the most celebrated artist of the year with eleven Grammy nominations including Album of the Year. In the midst of that triumph, Jon is immersed in his most ambitious challenge yet: composing “American Symphony”, an original symphony that thrillingly reimagines the classical traditions of the form, bringing together an expansive and inclusive diaspora of music for a performance at storied Carnegie Hall. This extraordinary trajectory is upended, however, when Batiste’s life partner – best-selling author Suleika Jaouad – learns that her long dormant cancer has returned. In the moving and deeply intimate American Symphony,, Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, The First Wave, Retrograde) delivers a portrait of two inimitable artists at a crossroad and a profound meditation on art, love, and the creative process.
While starting off in a standard enough fashion, it doesn’t take long for us to figure out how American Symphony is hitting us on an emotional level that is rarely seen inside the genre of the musical documentary. This film is an ode to the creative process, and the mountains that it usually has to climb.
Director Matthew Heineman who were used to seeing dealing with wars, drug cartels and pandemics turns his camera inward into the workings of the creative process which never ever runs as smoothly as most people tend to think. Attached to the hip of his subjects, Grammy Award winning Jon Batiste and his wife and life partner best-selling author Suleika Jaouad, Heineman allows us to see genuine artists staring down real world events that would stifle any artistic creator’s process.
Heineman finds raw emotion in the creative processes and functions of these two artists who find themselves at a human crossroads that many of us run into on a day to day basis. The intensity of this film comes in the quiet moments where our subjects have to find the resolve that helps them to get out of bed in the morning and to keep going. He photographs it all with power and genuine feeling as we see his subjects on an island of the human condition and how they find the strength to just keep going.
Kudos to both the charismatic Batiste and Jaouad for taking part in all this during these highs and lows in their lives that are seemingly happening simultaneously and particularly Batiste as he explores new creative territory during all of this.
American Symphony is an unexpected testament to both the human and the creative spirit and how intertwined they often are. Less of a music documentary and more a story of humanity itself that turns a genre on its ear and allows us to see the fortitude of creativity that exists in the artistic spirit, it’s the most beautiful film of the year that this critic didn’t even know he needed.