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By Phil Hall | June 21, 2007

In “Gypsy Caravan,” filmmaker Jasmine Dellal blew what could have been a sterling opportunity to preserve the music of the Gyspy people on film. (I am using the word “Gypsy” rather than “Romani” in this review, so apologies are tendered in advance to those who prefer “Romani” when describing this community).

The title refers to an American concert tour featuring five musical icons from the Gypsy population. From Macedonia comes Esma Redzepova, celebrated as the“Queen of the Gypsies.” From Spain comes Antonio el Pipa Flamenco Ensemble. From India is the folk group Maharaja (Gypsies trace their ancestry to India, hence the inclusion of this group). And there are two Romanian groups present: the 12-member band Taraf de Haidouks and the brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia.

I can’t really comment on the music since very little of it is presented in its entirety. Rather than shoot a straightforward concert film, a la “Stop Making Sense,” Dellal inexplicably snipped together fragments of the performances with lengthy (and often irrelevant) interviews with the performers about their lives, the Gypsy communities in their native countries, and what the songs are about. Thus, we are drowned in talk and never get a chance to actually hear why the tour was a sold-out affair.

There is also too much footage about the nuts and bolts of the tour. Some of it is vaguely amusing – such as a translator playing conduit in a cell phone interview between Redzepova and a Miami Herald interview, and the less-than-comfy Motel 6 accommodations provided at one stop along the tour. But for the most part, the tour-on-the-road shtick has been done so many times that the only novelty this go-round is having Gypsies rather than rockers on the bus. Inevitably, the backstage stuff becomes monotonous and ruins the film.

“Gypsy Caravan” was filmed by the legendary Albert Maysles, the man responsible for “Gimme Shelter.” It is a major shame this his contribution was strictly on the cinematography side. Had he been the director, it is easy to assume this soft, unmemorable endeavor would’ve been whipped into proper shape. In its present state, though, the film is a bore.

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