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'Common ground and differences': PVCC to screen doc on work, legacy of Black violinists

Eduardo Montes-Bradley looks forward to Friday evening’s screening of his “Black Fiddlers” film about the work and legacy of Black violinists — and to the conversation to follow.

“There’s going to be a Q&A after the film, which is usually quite heated,” Montes-Bradley said. That’s because his film traces a vibrant art form back to the lives and careers of Black fiddlers from the nation’s early years — including musicians from the Hemings and Scott families at Monticello, before and after enslavement — and because viewers tend to hold and voice strong feelings about agency, artistry and autonomy that the film can draw to the surface.

Emotions can be strong because “it has to do with Jefferson’s enslaved children who were fiddlers,” Montes-Bradley said. Other viewers share “a more Africanist view that sees the violin as an African instrument,” noting that the European violin performance tradition is not the only one, he said.

The film can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the V. Earl Dickinson Building’s Main Stage Theatre at Piedmont Virginia Community College. The screening is part of PVCC’s new Films Talk Back documentary series.

Audience members will learn about the work of Joe and Odell Thomson, cousins and practitioners of the Black string band tradition, and also will be introduced to musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson and Earl White, who help make sure more than three centuries of Black musical traditions and contributions are not forgotten.

Piedmont’s Films Talk Back series takes place on the third Friday of the month. Film buffs can expect to see a documentary, hear a talk by the filmmaker or another expert, and take part in question-and answer time. Montes-Bradley said that’s where the magic happens.

Montes-Bradley said a screening and fruitful discussion on Nov. 4 during the Virginia Film Festival helped demonstrate the value of using film as a springboard for diving into complex topics — and making the most of opportunities for people to listen and learn from each other.

“When we can have a serious conversation to find common ground and differences, it is welcome,” Montes-Bradley said. “It’s when I get to have the most fun. It’s very stimulating. It’s something you don’t get when you’re in your basement for a year editing your film.”

The director’s hour-long 2022 documentary came together after an intense year of research and valuable time spent with contemporary musicians who care about keeping history alive for future generations of listeners.

Research and reflection often led to more questions. Whose music is it? Why are some viewpoints accepted over others? How can expression and exploitation be separated? The director believes that answers need to be reached together.

“The film changed me,” Montes-Bradley said. “I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m not an evangelist.

“I want to educate myself so I can help educate others. The way it works for me is, ‘Let’s think about this together.’ I want to learn, too.”

Admission is free, and there will be plenty of free parking available. “Black Fiddlers” was made possible with a local donation from the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. For information, go to, email or call (44) 961-5376.


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