The Sound of Bells 2016
Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472; 617-926-0491
Produced by Marcia Mansur
Directed by Marcia Mansur and Marina Thomé
Streaming, 52 mins
Documentaries; Music; Religion
Date Entered: 06/25/2020Reviewed by Amanda Jo Melchor, Reference & Instruction Librarian, Texas A&M University - Kingsville
Part art piece, part documentary, The Sound of Bells centers on the dying art of bell ringing in Minas Gerais, Brazil and explores the bells’ past and present to a changing way of life.
The documentary superbly shows rather than tells viewers about the bells’ history, religious connections, social importance, and artistry. Over the course of the film, the bells become fine examples of living history, characters whose names, tones, and meanings depend on being passed down to successive ringers. The bell ringers are given as much importance as the bells themselves, illustrating the practice as a living art form dependent on its cultural and religious traditions to survive. Long, shadowed shots of the bells and their ringers in action give the film an almost meditative quality and insight into the practice.
The documentary, however, will leave those looking for clear structure and narrative, explicit facts, and broader context disappointed. No clear structure or narrative through-line is present in the film, with focuses on community life, history, and environmental and social exploitation feeling haphazardly introduced and connected. Parallels are drawn between church bells calling the community and factory sirens dictating the workday but it’s unclear what the film means to say about the comparison between religion and capitalism besides noting it. At times, the film felt more like an art piece than a documentary.
From a technical standpoint, the documentary is beautifully shot. Lighting, focus, and framework all capture powerful images which underline the film’s themes of tradition, community, and uncertainty. Long and detailed shots pace and structure the film. While this technique leverages the film’s artistic strength and lived in daily lives of the subjects, the heavy emphasis on images with light narration or dialogue make it difficult for viewers new to the subject matter to distill clear facts and themes.
The Sound of Bells would be a strong resource for instructors and courses focused on cultural histories and the importance and preservation of culture and art. The film’s emphasis on this historical art form in Minas Gerais, Brazil showcases it as living history and a vibrant example of how tradition and community keep art thriving. The film would be stellar when presented with materials providing more thorough context for the bells’ history and challenges to their survival. History, language, and film departments looking to add a unique resource to their collections will find much to enjoy about this film and tie into their coursework.
Official Jury Award for Best Documentary, 21st Florianópolis Audiovisual Mercosul, Brasil, 2017; Honorable mention, 2nd Heritales - International Heritage Film Festival, Portugal, 2017; Best Cinematography, 1st Mostra Sesc de Cinema Paulista, Brazil, 2017; Official Competition, 27th Biarritz Festival Latin America, France, 2017