British Columbia

Carnival Band: Politics and protests through music

The Carnival Band is a regular—and very lively—presence at community events in Vancouver, playing at marches, protests and parades around the city for the past decade.

Documentary about the politically-active East Vancouver band screening at DOXA Film Festival

Carnival Band marches through the streets. (North by Northwest/CBC)

The Carnival Band is a regular—and very lively—presence at community events in Vancouver, playing at marches, protests and parades around the city for the past decade.  

The roving band can be heard practicing on Mondays just off Commercial Drive and passersby, even those who don't know how to play an instrument, are invited to join in anytime.

A new documentary, You're Already In the Band (You just don't know it yet) looks at what draws — and keeps — this group together. It's screening at the DOXA Film Festival in Vancouver this week.

"From my apartment off of Commercial Drive, I could hear the band on Monday nights," documentary filmmaker Sandra Ignagni told CBC's North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

Ignagni was a student at the time, taking a documentary film course at Langara College, and looking for a topic to delve into and explore through film. She was fascinated by the band playing outside her window.

"I didn't really know much about them except it was quite large, there was a very diverse group of people in the band and they played really fantastic music,"  Ignagni said.

Unexpected results

Ignagni approached the Carnival Band's director Tim Sars and proposed the idea of making a documentary about the group.

"I just met this keener walking into the Carnival Band rehearsal," Sars said. "The next thing you know, we're going to be on the silver screen."

Sars said he didn't know if the film was going to amount to anything when he first agreed but is thrilled at how it turned out. Ignagni also said the final product was different from what she had first envisioned.

"I had this idea that I was going to make this very structured film and that's just not what happened," she said.

Instead, Ignagni said, she was welcomed and became part of the community in a way she hadn't imagined.

"I was just immersed right in it and brought to places that I'd never seen," she said.

Carnival Band welcomes everyone to join in, whether or not they play an instrument, and many members switch between different instruments. (North by Northwest/CBC)

'Joyous' expression

Ignagni described one scene in the documentary that particularly stuck with her: a large group of activist street bands, jamming together in a warehouse district in Seattle in the middle of the night. It was a visual feast, with costumes and flaming tubas and endless music.    

"I was thinking to myself 'Where am I? How did I get here?' " she said. "It was such a joyous night seeing these musicians really playing for each other."

That is part of the magic of Carnival Band, said Sars, because it brings people together despite differences.  

"The band definitely offers a space where you can still express yourself artistically and politically in a joyous kind of way," he said.

The group is politically active, usually supporting left-leaning causes, and recently played at events like Earth Day and March For Science.

"Sometimes, there are people that don't agree with the cause but agree with the mandate of supporting people's drive and ambition," Sars said "You get a lot of people who are coming from all walks of life together in a room - music does that."

You're Already In the Band (You just don't know it yet) is screening at the DOXA Film Festival in Vancouver this Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30 p.m. at VanCity Theatre and on Wednesday, May 10 at The Annex, at 3:15 p.m.

To hear the story behind the band, click on the audio link below. 

With files from North by Northwest.