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When a blond Californian with Alabama roots becomes a Flamenco guitarist in Andalucian boots, what happens along the way and behind the scenes? GYPSY DAVY tells the story of David Jones, stage name: “David Serva,” from the perspective of his five women and five children—one of whom is the director. Who knows the man who came and saw and conquered, “strumming their pain with his fingers,” better than they? Part duel and part duet—between a guitar-wielding father and a camera-pointing daughter—the film is much more than another hunt-down-the-absent-father movie, it’s a home-made epic.
"Everyone's family has drama, complexity and intrigue, but in just about any related contest, Rachel Leah Jones would win..."
"As engrossing as a flavorsome, twisty literary novel. Docu is full of colorful personalities... as well as music. Assembly is excellent... merit[ing] special credit for finding a narrative shape as complex as the family tree it charts."
"Top 10 movies of SUNDANCE 2012"
"Painful, poetic, sardonically funny and full of good music."
"Marvelous... Highly recommended."
"Even more impressive, Jones doesn’t let her emotional stake shake her command of the documentarian’s art, deftly weaving fifty-plus years of loves, losses and leavings into a compelling tale filled with narrative twists, turns and surprises."
Everyone’s family has drama, complexity and intrigue, but in just about any related contest, Rachel Leah Jones would win. Repping a shift into autobiographical terrain after the social-justice issues of her prior docs, “Gypsy Davy” buzzes around the still-growing biological legacy of Jones’ father, a renowned flamenco guitarist who has pollinated many a female flower. Structured not chronologically but in a way that decades-old family secrets continue to unfold and surprise well into the pic’s progress, this fascinating, ambivalent coming-to-terms should hook viewers in plenty of territories, particularly via upscale broadcasters.
Making clear her ambivalent emotions from the start, her voiceover narration a frequently accusatory letter to Dad, the U.S.-born Israeli helmer begins about a decade ago, as she visits her father for the first time in several semi-estranged years — the occasion being that he’s suffered a broken pelvis and shattered wrist. “I thought, ‘He’s broken the only things he knows how to use,’” she snaps. The wrist part is key to David Jones’ successful reinvention of himself as David Serva, a “gypsy” guitarist discovered a half-century ago by master/mentor Diego el del Gastor during a youthful pilgrimage to Andalusia.
The pelvis turns out to have had an even longer career, producing five children by five women, some of the latter amateur or professional flamenco dancers, most abandoned to raise their offspring alone when Serva moved on to his next immorata. Only the first spouse left him, prompting the realization that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his life in one relationship. That discovery would cause numerous people a lot of grief, the filmmaker high among them.
“Gypsy Davy” would have been diverting enough if it had painted its titular figure as simply that musician stereotype, the seductive, short-attention-spanned lout. But Serva is more complicated than that, and so is the film. In the end we realize there is indeed some sense of guilt lurking behind his shrugs of “What’s done is done.” The impact of his neglect has differed among his children, ranging from a flamenco-prodigy son to another, Marty Jones, who gave up a highly successful music career (as co-founder of rock group Counting Crows) because he feared repeating his father’s behavior.
Much of this is “stranger than fiction,” all of it as engrossing as a flavorsome, twisty literary novel. Docu is full of colorful personalities (especially the intelligent, headstrong women David had serial long-term involvements with while tomcatting on the side), as well as music — mostly casual performances in cafes and living rooms, but also some archival and recent concert excerpts.
Assembly is excellent, even if much of the material (going back to homemovies) is visually rough. Jones and co-editor Erez Laufer merit special credit for finding a narrative shape as complex as the family tree it charts.
Rachel Leah Jones, the Berkeley-born Israeli filmmaker whose "Gypsy Davy" screens at next month's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, usually makes charged documentaries about race, class and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But this documentary feature - painful, poetic, sardonically funny and full of good music - was a departure: It's a personal movie about her formerly estranged father, the famed flamenco guitarist David Serva, who left her flamenco-dancing mother and her when she was a year old.
Serva, who has five children with five women - all the wives and all but one of the kids appear in the film - was David Jones at Berkeley High in the late 1950s. He took a Latino name after finding himself in flamenco, the fiery music and dance his daughter calls "this centuries-old Gypsy-Jewish-Moorish art." She began making the movie about her elusive father, about whom she had very mixed feelings, a decade ago after his current wife, Claire Chinoy, called from Madrid saying he'd broken his pelvis and wrist in an accident and urging her to come visit.
"He broke the only two things he knew how to use," Jones says wryly in the film, which premiered on Israeli TV and was an official selection at this year's Sundance Film Festival. She wanted to get to know this self-invented man who "traded his poor Alabama roots for a pair of Andalusian boots," and who often hurt those who loved him.
Her relationship with him had been "incredibly dissatisfying for me," says Jones on the phone from Tel Aviv. "He wasn't absent enough to be just an abstract idea, and not present enough to be really satisfying in any way," adds the director, who came to like and admire her dry-witted and elliptical father, his artistry and his honesty.
"I set out to humanize him, but part of me needed to punish him a little bit," says the director, who tears up in a scene outside of Seville, at the place where her father first met the famous flamenco guitarist Diego Del Gastor. Smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, he tells her: "I don't mind being a sacrificial lamb for you. I owe it to you. You want me to say I'm sorry? I'll say it 5 million times, man. Of course I'm sorry."
A few years later, Serva sent Jones a text asking her to finish the movie so he could die sad. "It's a sad story, no?" he asked.
"Yeah," she replied, "but he gets the girl in the end."