First-time Missouri filmmaker John Presley provides an illuminating profile of world-class bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland. Routinely hailed as without parallel as a player, Cleveland wows such fellow instrumental luminaries as Bela Fleck, Vince Gill, and Sam Bush, who enthusiastically testify to his prowess. Physical challenges make his accomplishments even more impressive: Born blind and with a cleft palate, Cleveland then lost most of his hearing in one ear. A physician also notes that the musician has brain anomalies that should make his epic fiddle-playing even more difficult. Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Cleveland began playing fiddle at age 4, and after some initial struggles, he quickly proved a prodigy. He then expanded his repertoire of instruments, displaying impressive chops on both guitar and mandolin. Although Cleveland doesn’t limit himself to a single genre, periodically working in rock and jazz modes, the International Bluegrass Music Association has named him Best Fiddler 11 times since 2001, and his group Flamekeeper is a four-time winner as instrumental group. Deftly tracing the arc of Cleveland’s life and career and offering a plenitude of great music for bluegrass fans, “Flamekeeper” tells a truly inspiring story.
With director Presley and subject Michael Cleveland.