The subjects of this documentary are the renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, an international orchestra which he created. Some of the other members, renowned in their respective countries and regions, are also interviewed. They include Kinan Azmeh (from Syria), Kayhan Kalhor (a Kurdish Iranian living in exile), Wu Man (from the Chinese province of Zhejiang), and Cristina Pato (from the Celtic region of Galicia in northwestern Spain).
This film ably juxtaposes the spiritual beauty in discussions of music and culture against the troubles of the world including histories that are current (Syria), recent (Iran), and distant (the cultural revolution in China in the 1960s). These discussions also include the difficulty in maintaining culture and music during such difficult times. Similarly, modern economics is also a challenge to maintaining cultural history which is most important as many musical instruments are unique to certain countries and regions.
As the main interviewee, Ma is inspirational due to his modesty, his intelligence, and his ability to articulate the spirituality he sees in his art. It is also refreshing to witness someone who is world famous but who also seems resistant to the trashy and vulgar sides of fame.
One of the most gripping scenes is where Azmeh visits Syrian refugee camps in Syria and teaches basic music to a group of young girls. An aerial view of the camps is heart-wrenching.
With such a great collective of music, I was expecting a grand finale. The finale was pleasant though it could have been more emotional. While this film takes on great principles, it occasionally seems a bit too earnest. But when it covers so much beautiful music, art, architecture, and spiritual values, how can one not like it? It's no surprise that its director, Morgan Neville, directed another musical documentary "20 Feet from Stardom" which was one of the best movies of 2013.
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