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Tribeca: David Byrne and the Ross Brothers Talk Esoteric Passions and Their ‘Contemporary Color’

Tribeca: David Byrne and the Ross Brothers Talk Esoteric Passions and Their 'Contemporary Color'

Not many people may know this, but on top of being a multitalented rock star, David Byrne is also a staunch bike enthusiast. The musician has written extensively on the subject, discussing everything from bike paths to planning a long biking journey. Byrne doesn’t pigeon-hole himself into being a one-trick pony, exploring multiple modes of self expression, from architectural music, to PowerPoint art, to biking. But who would have guessed that Byrne would find that same sort of drive in color guarding?

READ MORE: Tribeca Review: David Byrne Puts on a Brilliant Show in ‘Contemporary Color’

Byrne became fascinated with the esoteric cheerleading spin-off following his exposure to the sport in 2008 when a color guard team requested the use of his song in one of their routines. In a strange series of events, Byrne found himself leading the charge to push color guarding to a new frontier, staging a extraordinary display that would bring in frequent-collaborator St. Vincent, along with other contemporary superstars Nelly Furtado, Ad-Rock and Zola Jesus, among others.

But David Byrne wasn’t satisfied with just putting on an 8-show spectacle in Brooklyn and Toronto for an audience of nearly 20,000 people. No, the multimedia artist decided that in order to capture the night in its emotional totality, he would need to bring on filmmaking brothers Bill and Turner Ross to film the entire display, including the backstage moments of emotion as the color guard would laugh, hug and cry in disbelief along with their equally jovial assigned artist.

Indiewire hit the red carpet and post-screening Q&A for the Tribeca Film Festival’s joyous “Contemporary Color,” and caught some time with directors Bill and Turner Ross, cultural icon David Byrne and the cast of recently graduated flag spinners.

How did you [Bill and Turner Ross] get in involved in the project?

Turner Ross: David was putting on this extraordinary show and he had seen some of the stuff Bill and I did. He brought us into the fold, at which point Bill and I had a long discussion about what this thing could be and what it would look like, because it is such a very unique experience.

How does this project set itself apart from your other works? This seems like it requires a lot more collaboration.

Bill Ross: We tried to make it as small as we could, considering how big the project was. We brought on a lot of shooters that we respect as shooters but also as directors. We gave them a game plan knowing that they can run with these things and take them into an interesting direction. So then the game plan was set, the show started and everyone ran in their respective directions.

What drew you to this esoteric field?

David Byrne: I thought it was an incredible art form that was being made. New Yorkers and lots of other people that I had no idea about that were under the radar. It’s not generally part of the cultures of big cities like this, so I thought, “Ah! Let’s put some live music to it and it could be really cool.”

And it’s a world! The kids and everything, they have their own world, their own community. And these guys, in their films, have inhabited and embedded themselves in various worlds and I thought, “They know how to do this. They know how to find a way into the place where these kids live and what they’re about.”

I just wanted to add that I love your guys’ outfits.

Turner: Yeah, it’s a nice collaborative process [laughs].

Where else can fans expect to the film?

Bill: So far, it’ll go to – I mean, we’ll see what the whole [distribution] roll-out is – HotDocs, San Francisco Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival, and then it’ll keep going, and hopefully we’ll get distribution.

Turner: We want people to be able to experience the thing, just as the conceit to the show was to bring an audience to this thing that other people don’t get to experience. We hope the film does the same thing.
After the screening, Byrne took the time to sat down with the Ross brothers, along with various performers from the film,  to discuss the impact that the film will have on the niche performance art movement. Byrne was his usual upbeat self, laughing and acting more like a overly cheerful uncle than a rock star.

“Did you know about color guarding?” asked Byrne.

“No, I had no idea. And the world championships are literally 30 minutes down the road. Yeah, I mean I feel like an asshole, [laughs] but later we really invested in it and learned about it quite a bit,” Bill responded. 

At times, Byrne was laughing so hard at the Ross brothers’ responses that he could barely go on.

He managed to get out: “What did you think about how you were going to shoot this?”

Bill jovially responded, “When you first pitched it to us, I said ‘huh…'” But he soon regained his composure and explained that they took their small-town investigational approach and “condensed it,” adding that they took their visual inspirations from “things like ‘The Muppet Show’ and ‘Wrestlemania’ and other things that happen in arenas.”

READ MORE: Tribeca Film Festival Announces First Half of Feature Slate, Including ‘Equals,’ ‘High-Rise’ and More

When asking the student cast members whether they thought “Contemporary Color” would bring color guarding to a wider audience, one of the students replied, “I really hope it does, because in the color guard we have come a really long way and one day we hope to be a part of the Olympics,” to which the crowd responded by with lots of approving cheers.

Perhaps the Ross brothers have opened the gate to a new athletic practice that potential hobbyists would soon turn into their full-time dedication. But if there is anyone has the potential to shine a light on an under-appreciated medium, it is most Byrne, who can still make make audiences “ask yourself – Well…How did I get here?”

“Contemporary Color” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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Check out the trailer for another Tribeca premiere, “the bomb,” embedded below:

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