Finding Her Beat, directed by Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett, spotlights the dream of Jennifer Weir, a Korean adoptee living in North Dakota, becoming a reality. She longs to bring the styles of the best female Taiko drummers onto the same stage. The grueling rehearsal schedule’s intensity tests the performers’ resolve. Adding to the artists’ pressures is the looming COVID-19 virus that every news channel is commenting on. That’s right; this concert is slated to take place in early 2020.
The word “taiko” refers to both the drums and the performance of playing them. Unfortunately, females have been excluded from the biggest and most important ceremonies involving Taiko for eons. Thus, Weir’s strong desire to bring together performers from Japan and all over North America to showcase how talented and powerful female Taiko drummers can truly be.
Finding Her Beat is mainly an observational documentary, watching all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a show that might not happen thanks to the ‘rona. Interviews do happen every now and then, especially as the heat turns up mere weeks away from the all-female Taiko performance. However, these are not rose-colored nostalgia views, as the interviews are from then and there. As such, they add to the urgency all involved feel to make this massive collaboration work on all cylinders. Thanks to a compelling true narrative and expert editing, by Pickett and Mikkelson, alongside Sam Kaiser and Carrie Shanahan, the film pulls off that feat quite handily.
“…longs to bring the styles of the best female Taiko drummers onto the same stage.”
For one, hearing what Taiko means to those involved adds a layer of meaning to the performance, and an emotional investment as COVID looms large in the background. Folk dancer Chieko Kojima and Kaoly Asano, who has strived for years to get more female representation into the art form, make some salient points about why they considered it imperative to be here. Their inclusion highlights the struggle female Taiko artists have faced over the years.
The second element that makes this work so well is Weir herself. Watching her navigate tighter than expected stage space or address what is or isn’t working about the show is compelling. She has a Herculean task before her, and while there are stressors, Weir handles herself well. Someone mentions how hard it can be with these competing visions and wanting to prove that “you are the best” while still supporting each other. Under Weir’s leadership, these artists make it seem like the easiest thing in the world.
But really, Finding Her Beat is about Taiko, the drums, the dances, the songs, all of it. These women are impressive artists, giving everything they have into each full-bodied drum performance. It’s a gorgeous, involving artform that the filmmakers loving capture in all of its kinetic glory.
Finding Her Beat is one of the year’s most engaging and captivating documentaries. For those unfamiliar with Taiko, it is a great primer. Those already in the know will discover incredible new (to them) talents. The creativity on display and the earnestness of all the performers will pull the heartstrings.
For more information, visit the official Finding Her Beat site.
"…one of the year's most engaging and captivating documentaries."