July Talk: Love Lives Here – A Dual Review

In anticipation of the home release of the Canadian doc July Talk: Love Lives Here, Wylie Writes’ Trevor Chartrand and Jolie Featherstone both reviewed the movie.  Did they like it?  Do they agree with each other?  Check out their takes!

Trevor Chartrand’s Take

July Talk: Love Lives Here takes an up-close and personal look at the lives of a thriving alt-rock band during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Distraught by the potentially declining health of singer Peter Dreimanis, combined with the cancellation of countless shows and tours, the band devises a creative way to perform live during trying times, bringing people together while keeping the spirit of their music alive. 

This quaint documentary (which was featured at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival) has a relaxed pace, taking a slice-of-life look at the band as well as the world during a very specific point in time.  Artists used to traveling and “gigging” for months at a time are suddenly anchored at home – in some ways a much needed recovery time from showbiz burnout.  In other ways, they find themselves creatively blocked, trapped in a closed-off world.

Overall, this filmmaking debut by Brittany Farhat tends to feel aimless – unfocused and wandering, if you will.  Loosely framed around the band’s preparation for an upcoming drive-in gig, July Talk: Love Lives Here discusses a range of topics including mental and physical health, the philosophy of music, race relations and sexism, and the pandemic itself.  It’s an eclectic mix of talking points, but the charisma and bizarre charm of band members Dreimanis and Leah Fay Goldstein will make the audience feel strangely at home throughout.  It’s a very warm film that feels intimate, personal, and raw.  In that sense, Farhat’s doc evokes an oddly nostalgic sensation harkening back to the beginning of the pandemic, offering reflections on just how much has changed in three short years.

July Talk: Love Lives Here screens in black-and-white, a choice that, ironically, strengthens this feeling of closeness with the band.  The cinematography combines concert footage with the band’s day-to-day life, culminating with some striking, memorable visuals. 

The film is, surprisingly, light on music content with only a few tracks showcased towards the very end.  As interesting as these people are and as compelling as their stories can be, a July Talk vehicle needs to include more July Talk songs – that’s a given, isn’t it?  Otherwise though, July Talk: Loves Lives Here is an inviting and enjoyable project.

Jolie Featherstone’s Take

July Talk: Love Lives Here is a cinematic scrapbook filled with concert footage, interviews, and candid moments documenting the beloved Toronto band’s journey to putting on their first in-person live show after the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Director Brittany Farhat gives us a backstage pass to their concert – at a drive-in! – as well as the band’s experiences in a charged social climate, an evolving sound, and unexpected personal challenges.

From their scrappy punk roots, to their live-fast-work-hard-play-hard lifestyle, to the adrenaline and looming burn-out of touring, to an unexpected serious health issue impacting one of the band members – July Talk has been through it all together.  I attended their concert with ARKELLS many years ago.  It was during the summer at Budweiser Stage in Toronto.  I walked in and was pleasantly surprised by a multitude of printed paper signs taped up on the pillars in the amphitheater.  I wasn’t surprised by the signs themselves, but by the words and directives that adorned them.  It was a manifesto of sorts.  A call to action and a voice of reassurance to audience-goers.  They asked audience members to watch out for each other, communicate, and respect each other.  They affirmed that everyone was welcome at the show.  It was truly uplifting to see a rock band speaking up and setting intentions for their shows, expressing values of inclusion, compassion, and respect.  The ‘Love Lives Here’ signs are available on their website and a collective effort has begun to translate them into multiple languages:  The punk scene over the last 20 years-or-so has felt as if it has lost its way from its DIY and community action roots.  Yet July Talk’s intentions bring those values to the present.

As we spend time with the band during the film, this community mentality seems natural and authentic to the band members.  The documentary opens with the band watching Jurassic Park at a drive-in.  They are masked and stay inside their vehicle.  They each share charming memories of drive-in visits they’d taken previously.  There are laughs, but no jabs.  No posturing.  Just purely enjoying the experience of being together, watching a movie, while also taking measures to keep each other safe.  Later on, they discuss how they recognize power imbalances between their band (predominantly white-presenting people) and their friends and co-collaborators.  There is a long history of reductive stereotypes and the holding back of Black artists in the music world, having their voices and talent stolen, underpaid, and uncredited.  The band speaks openly about their awareness of that and wanting to ensure they don’t continue that harmful cycle.  At another point, they meet with the drive-in manager to discuss their COVID protection measures.  Privately, singer Peter Dreimanis says he’s uncertain about their assurances as they were inside and the manager was speaking to them without a mask.  They said their worst fear would be for the show to be a super-spreader event.  During the concert, musician Leah Fay Goldstein asks the audience to flash their car lights if they’re okay with her climbing onto their car – an act to ensure consent is respected.

It would have been helpful to see more coverage of the band’s history. Brittany Farhat’s documentary assumes that you, as a viewer, know the band, know what they’re shows are like (wild, gregarious, fun, and intense are all words that come to mind) and what they’re about.  The movie would also be enhanced by providing a look at what other artists were doing at this time in 2020 to situate the band’s journey within context.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we often saw the worst of people.  It contributed to the erosion of faith in others, distrust, division, and alienation.  July Talk: Love Lives Here shows what can be achieved when people centre consent, care, and inclusion as their guiding principles.  With gorgeous cinematography and adept editing, Farhat’s July Talk: Love Lives Here is an uplifting, but real, look at a band driven by the love of music and community.


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