At SXSW18: Making the Grade

Like Jeremy Workman’s The World Before Your Feet, Making the Grade is another surprisingly charming documentary that premiered at SXSW this year. It’s a simple and sweet depiction of piano students and their teachers across Ireland. It’s a subtle reminder of the importance of art and music at all stages of our lives.

Every year in Ireland, over 30,000 students prepare for graded piano exams. These students range in ages from younger kids, whose parents either make or encourage them take lessons, to older adults that want to try something new. The students in the film are a diverse lot, including a physically disabled teenage girl, a heavy metal musician, twin brothers, and many more. Making The Grade follows these students as their prepare to pass their various grade levels from One to Eight.

The film celebrates the students’ inspirations, struggles, and achievements alongside their teachers’ patience, determination, and wisdom. But it also expands on this to briefly explore the relationships that color these students’ lives, particularly parents and siblings who both cheer them on or make the process more difficult. Director Ken Wardrop and editor John O’Connor have composed a beautiful work that looks as good as it sounds…when the students hit the right notes.

Making the Grade had its North American premiere in the 24 Beats Per Second section here at SXSW.