Hot Docs Review: 'Come Worry with Us!'

Come Worry with Us!
(Canada, 82 min.)
Written & Directed by Helene Klodawsky
Programme: Next (Toronto Premiere)
Photo credit: Constellation Records/Yannick Grandmont

An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. The reality of parenting, however, usually sees this effort shouldered chiefly by one person: the mother. The proverbial village in Helene Klodawsky’s strong documentary Come Worry with Us! explores an unconventional effort at child rearing, but the heart of this alt-rock doc is a stimulating look at motherhood in the age in which both parents habitually go to work. The village of Come Worry with Us! is the Montreal-based band Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, which features new parents Jessica Moss and Efrim Menuck along with fellow band mates Sophie Trudeau, Thierry Amar, and Dave Payant. Moss and Menuck are the reservedly proud parents of their infant son Ezra. One might call them reservedly proud since the pragmatic reality of raising a child clashes somewhat with the groovy eclecticism of the hip SMZ.

There’s a notable philosophy of community to the band, for the members of Silver Mt. Zion truly make an effort to realize the idea that a group of people can pitch in to nurture a child. Director Helene Klodawsky (Motherland: Tales of Wonder, Malls R Us) takes the audience on a folk rock road tour in the vein of the 2012 Hot Docs crowd-pleaser Big Easy Express, except that Come Worry with Us! takes the behind the scenes/concert doc formula a step further by using the story of Silver Mt. Zion’s first official road baby to offer a provocative essay on both the state of the music biz of today and contemporary feminism.

Come Worry with Us! first engages the viewer with the mellow funkiness of the band’s sound as extensive and strikingly shot footage of rehearsals and concerts reveals the unique harmony of Silver Mt. Zion. This harmony appears both onstage and off, as the documentary explains how the band’s philosophy puts the collective before the individual, for the band shares profits and costs equally among the members. The latter makes the introduction of young Ezra a particularly notable test of the band’s ability to put philosophy into practice, for Silver Mt. Zion sees the cost—in terms of both finances and time commitment—that goes into raising a child on the road. This one new band member, little as he is, requires a full time nanny and a tour bus to absorb the costs of said nanny by taking the band from place to place as economically as possible.

They’re not the first band to try to let a child grow up in a funky atmosphere of good vibes and music, but Jessica admits that the open efforts of the band hardly offer the ideal childhood for her son. The nurturing is there, as the bandmates seem to adjust to the new schedule relatively well. Ezra, on the other hand, is visibly exhausted and cranky from being cooped up and trucked from gig to gig.

A necessary question then enters the picture as Jessica asks herself whether one can sustain the life of an artist while also being a mother. Having a child consumes a considerable amount of time and Jessica openly admits that a necessary joy of motherhood is appreciating the role she plays in nurturing Ezra through the early stages of life. The reality of being a musician circa 2013, however, hardly allows Jessica to pursue her dream as a musician from her home base of Montreal, for the economics of making a career as a musician in the age of downloading and youth unemployment means that one cannot survive on record sales alone. Moreover, Silver Mt. Zion’s community-based philosophy extends to the audience, and the band refuses to inflate their concert costs to match those of their competitors. Extensive touring is therefore a necessity if Silver Mt. Zion wants to remain active and loyal to its fans, but the band’s tour with Ezra makes it difficult for Jessica to reconcile both commitments.

Bringing up baby in the world of a band is hardly a unique position for Jessica, Efrim, and the rest of Silver Mt. Zion, but there’s something especially illuminating about Klodawsky’s two-pronged approach into both the artistic and familial endeavours of this particular case. The band essentially rides on a philosophy that rejects the status quo and moors of Capitalist western society, yet Jessica finds herself at a crossroads where Silver Mt. Zion can either choose to fall into line with Big Business and reject its communal cost-sharing, or ask its fans to recoup the cost. Jessica, alternatively, can take a step back from the band, skip the life on the road, and essentially play the role of Megan Draper to Efrim’s Don. She relishes both roles, however, and she finds a sisterhood of musicians that shares her conundrum and imparts stories of women in similar situations who chose their careers or their families.

Why should she choose? It seems that for all the openness and apparent progressive of feminism, parenting remains a role that falls on the mother while playing the breadwinner remains a facet of masculinity. The question of taking a step away from the semi-bohemian lifestyle of a musician is never directed at Efrim, yet Come Worry with Us! inadvertently reveals the detachment, or the loss, that comes with distancing oneself from one’s child in order to further a career. Efrim’s art and music voice a love for his son that is equally apparent in his awkwardness with Ezra: he loves the boy, but he lacks the bond that has grown between Ezra and Jessica in their time spent together. Following one’s dream in the arts scene of today essentially calls for difficult decisions: one shouldn’t need to quit the village to raise the child.

Come Worry with Us! ultimately offers a hopeful portrait of the Silver Mt. Zion team as the band strikes a chord with its vibe of ‘anything goes’ and embraces the opportunity to lead a new wave of musical kinship. Klodawsky’s portrait, then, is just as much a piece of good PR as it is a swelling and sonorous concert film and a feat of feminist filmmaking alike. It’s an omnibus piece with a little bit of everything thrown in—a little like the band itself—and it's all the better for its all-encompassing perspective.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Come Worry with Us! screens
-Sun, Apr. 27 at 6:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox
-Mon, Apr. 28 at 2:00 PM at Cineplex Scotiabank
-Thurs, May 1 at 1:00 PM at Hart House Theatre

Please visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information on this year's festival.