Hot Docs

July Talk: Love Lives Here Review – Rocking the Drive-in

Hot Docs 2023

6 mins read

July Talk: Love Lives Here
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Brittany Farhat
Program: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)


“Honk if you are an adaptable human being” commands Leah Fay Goldstein, co-front person of the band July Talk, as she stands on the roof of a car lit by the glow of various headlights. Hanging off her every word, we hear the sound of people pressing their car horns fills the air. While the fans of the band would probably have honked for just about anything she requested, the moment feels extra poignant here. As one observes in July Talk: Love Lives Here, a captivating celebration of art and community, the ability to have a meaningful connection with anyone was not a given during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Set during the summer of 2020, when music venues where closed, racial protest filled the streets and the continually rising COVID-19 deaths had everyone on edge, Brittany Farhat’s concert documentary captures how July Talk navigated a rapidly changing climate.  Known for their energetic live performances and commitment to touring, the lockdowns meant wading through unfamiliar waters. The pandemic hit just as they were preparing to release their album Pray for It, and the band was unsure how to bring it to the audiences from home.

Normally playing 200 to 300 shows in support of a new record, the band had to find a creative and safe way to connect with their fans. Enter the Stardust Drive-in, an unlikely venue that would allow individuals to socially distance from the comfort of their cars.  As Goldstein’s co-front person Peter Dreimanis notes early in the film, the intimate experience would create “a good hangout” vibe in the cars with the people you came with.

July Talk had to deal with many logistical problems while planning to utilize three drive-in screens to project images from the stage and figuring out how to pull off a high energy show with an audience sealed away in their cars. Not only was there a fear that the concert could become a super spreader event, but they also had to confront the Type 1 diabetes diagnosis that Dreimanis received leading up to the show.

Documenting the events in black and white, the film takes audiences behind-the-scenes to create an intimate portrait of the band. Farhat captures each major decision they make, including rehearsing moments that would have been otherwise impromptu in a pre-pandemic setting, while simultaneously providing a deeper look into Goldstein and Dreimanis’ life as they explore the treatment he will need and the health risk that could arise with him performing at the concert. The film also provides plenty of insight into the group’s early punk rock days and their evolution as artists and people.

The complexities of the band really shines when they open up about their song “Champagne,” which was co-written by friends and backup singers James Baley and Kyla Charter.  The song was inspired by the racial imbalance of power between white artists and their Black backup singers.  The song took on a whole other layer of relevance with the racial reckoning that was sparked by George Floyd’s murder. The band were forced to reflect on whether or not releasing the song would be viewed as them capitalizing on the movement, which adds an extra layer of gravitas to the song when it is performed on stage.

Mixing selected songs performed on stage at the drive-in with archival footage of the band performing in past shows and music videos, Farhat’s documentary offers a well-rounded portrait of the group. While the performances are full of energy and heart, what elevates July Talk: Love Lives Here from standard concert documentaries is the way Farhat strips the band down to its emotional core. They may carry the swagger of rockstars on stage, but one gets the sense that fostering a connection and love for all mankind through their art is far more important to them than fame and platinum records.

An engaging concert documentary that never settles for simply playing the hits, July Talk: Love Lives Here highlights the ability of art to bring community together even during a time when we physically had to be apart.

July Talk: Love Lives Here screens at Hot Docs 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Courtney Small is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic and co-host of the radio show Frameline. He has contributed to That Shelf, Leonard Maltin, Cinema Axis, In the Seats, and Black Girl Nerds. He is the host of the Changing Reels podcast and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association, Online Film Critics Society and the African American Film Critics Association.

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