‘Finding Her Beat’ Puts the Spotlight on Female Taiko Drums – MPR News | Episode Movies

CATHY WURZER: We’re done with politics, at least for the next 10 minutes or so. We will talk about taiko drums. You’ve heard of taiko drums, right? It has been part of Japanese culture for thousands of years. And for almost that long, only men have been playing the drums. Minnesota filmmakers Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett have collaborated on a new documentary that follows a group of female taiko drummers as they attempt to carve out their place in the art form and on stage.

Finding Her Beat has its Minneapolis premiere this Friday at the Sound Unseen Music and Film Festival in Minneapolis. I’m so happy to have Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett with me. How are you?

DAWN MIKKELSON: So nice to be here, Kerri. Thank you for having us.

CATHY WURZER: I’m glad you’re with us. hey dawn How are you?

DAWN MIKKELSON: It’s good. I just called you Kerri.

CATHY WURZER: It’s fine. Kerri Miller is in Bhutan right now so everything is fine. You’re stuck with me, okay? you’re stuck with me It’s good. Thank you Keri and Dawn. Keri Pickett isn’t with us right now, is she? OK I am sorry. We have some problems. Let me talk to you first, Dawn, and then we’ll get Keri in here. Everything is good. So tell us about the idea for Finding Her Beat. How did you two come about?

DAWN MIKKELSON: Well, Jennifer Wier – the CEO of Taiko Arts Midwest and the mastermind behind this momentous concert that took place on February 29th, 2020 – came to me. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. And she said: I’m doing this great concert.

I bring together the top women from around the world just to blow the roof off the Ordway. Would you film it just for us to have, somehow document it for later? And the more we talked, the more it became like this is more than just a concert. It’s a movement. This is a documentary. And conveniently, she agreed.

And so Jen and I started talking about what that means, and then I brought Keri Pickett on board. And two years later we filmed this concert just before the world shut down due to COVID.

I mean, really, Jen and I bonded as women creating art and working in male-dominated art forms, and that was our connection to each other. And I think that comes through in the film.

CATHY WURZER: Keri Pickett is on the line. hey keri


CATHY WURZER: Sorry about the technology here. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not.

KERI PICKETT: That’s fine.

CATHY WURZER: But thanks for the call. From what I understand you were the DP – the cinematographer – on this documentary and you worked with our friend Dawn. Have you two worked together on anything before?

KERI PICKETT: No. We’re both members of Film Fatales, a national organization of women who have directed a feature film or television series, so we bonded on that level. And so she brought me in as co-director and cinematographer and it was just such an exciting process.

I’ve never been on a team like this before. Being more of a solo filmmaker myself, it was a good opportunity to work with Dawn and be able to tell this story in a cinematic way, which is a very difficult way to film. And so it was a lot of footage. There was a lot to cover.

CATHY WURZER: So for people who haven’t had a chance to experience Taiki drumming, I’ve only had one chance in my life. and it reminds me of– I mean, it’s that happy, scrappy experience. Can you describe Taiko to us? Dawn, I’m going to throw this question at you first to throw.

DAWN MIKKELSON: Well, I mean, taiki drums for someone who’s never experienced it before – what I’m saying is that you sit in this room and it vibrates you to the core. And there is nothing like it. Jennifer Wier spoke about how when they enter a new venue, dust falls from the ceiling that hasn’t fallen in decades.

So it just rocks the venue, and there’s something very primal about it. We talked about how Taiko talks to the first thing you experience. You hear your mother’s heartbeat in the womb, and I think there’s something very powerful about taiko drumming.

And I would say taiko drumming is international drumming. Many cultures have similar drumming in terms of creating this pristine place.

CATHY WURZER: And Keri, I mean it must have been just a fabulous experience shooting that thing because you have these huge drums – just the visual of it. And then, as Dawn just mentioned, I can’t just imagine the sound, the audio.

KERI PICKETT: It’s a healing art form. And I think to see women coming together and making such amazing sounds on these beautiful drums is a healing vibration on so many levels. And yes, it was an art form. And whenever an artist gets to film an art form, I think it’s a lucky day.

CATHY WURZER: Say, I’m curious, Dawn. How were taiko drummers kept off the stage? I mean all the time. Is it still like this?

DAWN MIKKELSON: Well, that’s an interesting article in that when taiko came to the United States sometime in the 1960’s, women really flocked there, and it became — currently in the United States, I think it’s about two-thirds of taiko out drummers are women. So it’s not like they didn’t play.

However, as Jennifer Weir has repeatedly pointed out, participation does not equate to justice. And so it happened that although the majority of US players were women, they were not used as main players. You were not hired as a teacher. They are not the ones who are brought in as a professional. That was always given to men.

And I think that reminds us of the roots of taiko, which is hundreds of years old and comes from a place where people spoke to the gods through taiko. And that’s how it was back then, well, obviously men are the ones who talk to the gods.

So even though they’re playing, there’s still that thing from the past. And so Finding Her Beat really isn’t just about taiko, it’s about women and anyone who can’t wait any longer for the gatekeepers to invite them to do the work. It’s about expressing yourself creatively and claiming your space and producing your own film and persevering during that time.

CATHY WURZER: So Keri, almost like women redefining power on their own terms?

KERI PICKETT: Yes. One of the most amazing things was when I was filming in Japan in the fall of 2019 and I was at Kodu school, which is a very traditional school – and I was learning and following [INAUDIBLE] for the movie. I said, well, there’s a student here.

And she said yes, but really, when she’s done, she’ll have all the training, but she really probably won’t be let on the traditional taiko stage in Japan. And one of the amazing things that has happened because of our film is that our film has already had an impact on the Japanese drumming culture in Japan and the Kodu School now features and focuses on this young woman in their videos .

Although our film has not yet been screened and premiered in Japan, I believe we have already made an impact. And as Jennifer Weir says, history has now been made and all of these women have proven they can do it. There is no turning back. From now on it’s a heartbeat movement.

CATHY WURZER: My goodness, Dawn. I wonder what will happen when you start showing this film in Japan.

DAWN MIKKELSON: That’s a good question.

KERI PICKETT: I’m hoping for good things, yes.

CATHY WURZER: I’m wondering what other changes might occur, you know?

DAWN MIKKELSON: Hopefully it will be good.

KERI PICKETT: I’m expecting some headwinds.

CATHY WURZER: I’m sorry Keri. Continue. Say it again?

KERI PICKETT: I expect some backlash, but I also expect that acceptance of the time has come for women internationally and that it will happen there as well.

CATHY WURZER: Last word from you, Dawn?

DAWN MIKKELSON: I’m just so proud to be a part of it and I think it says something that we’re showing here in Minnesota that our first showing was sold out. So if you want to come, please buy your tickets online. It happens Sunday at 8:15 am is our second showing. They go fast. Honestly, I think Minnesota is a rare place, and it’s the only place that this story could have happened. And we are so excited to bring it home.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Dawn Mikkelson, Keri Pickett, thank you for speaking to me. Good luck.

KERI PICKETT: Thanks, Cathy.

DAWN MIKKELSON: Thank you. You too.

CATHY WURZER: Dawn and Keri are co-directors of the documentary Finding Her Beat. As Dawn mentioned, it will be screened this Friday, November 11th at the Sound Unseen Music and Film Festival in Minneapolis. More on the film’s website. It’s herbeatfilm.com.

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