Deep throat

Rating: NNNThe five most frightening words in film are, arguably, "They loved it at Sundance." Strange things happen to people trapped.


Rating: NNN


The five most frightening words in film are, arguably, “They loved it at Sundance.”

Strange things happen to people trapped in the middle of snowbound mountain towns, and they give audience awards to some very strange films in Park City, Utah, in January.

Genghis Blues was one of them, winner of the audience prize at the 1999 Sundance festival, and it arrives in our theatres freshly anointed with an Academy Award nomination as best documentary.

Remote corner

Paul Pena is a blind blues singer/guitarist – he toured with T-Bone Walker, among others – living in San Francisco and connecting to the world through shortwave radio. One day, in some remote corner of the dial, he discovers Tuvan throat-singing and decides it would be an interesting thing to teach himself.

Tuva, by the way, is a small piece of real estate in Russia, tucked up on the northern border of Mongolia. You can’t get there from here. For those who need a context, it sounds pretty much like Inuit throat-sing-ing, a means of sonic production that allows the human throat to produce more than one note at a time.

Genghis Blues, produced and directed on video by the Belic brothers, who later transferred it to film, follows Pena and friends as they trek from San Francisco to the end of the earth so he can participate in the big annual Tuvan throat-singing competition, to which he has been invited by its leading practitioner.

Visually raw – the word “homemade” occurred to me while watching it – but emotionally assured, Genghis Blues is a stirring tribute to the stick-to-it-iveness of a man who, geographically limited by his disability to the block around his home, succeeds in travelling halfway across the world to sing for people to whose traditions he is an utter stranger.

This is a film simultaneously odd and inspiring. A sensation in Tuva, Pena plays them some blues, mixing in throat-singing techniques that give him a blues voice so deep that he makes Howlin’ Wolf sound like Barry Manilow. Highly recommended.

For the record, the four most frightening words in film are “directed by Joel Schumacher” and the three most frightening are “starring Steven Seagal.”


GENGHIS BLUES, directed by Roko Belic, produced by Roko and Adrian Belic, with Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar. 88 minutes. A Waadi Rum Production. A Red Sky release. Opens (Friday) February 25. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 83. Rating: NNN

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