Feature documentary highlights musician Rachel Flowers’ two-year journey

by Tim Pompey
tjpompey@gmail.com

Playing piano is all about interweaving sound and movement. The right hand works one end, the left hand another, and together they form a pattern that progresses toward inspiration. Such are the themes of Hearing Is Believing.

Twenty-two-year-old Rachel Flowers is the featured musician in local director Lorenzo DeStefano’s new film, and he works to highlight these interweaving themes throughout Flowers’ everyday life. “The film is designed to always bring you back to this house,” DeStefano stated, referring to Flowers’ home in South Oxnard. “So these musical explorations we include all get bigger and bigger, but she always comes home to this place.” 

Flowers, considered a musical prodigy, is also blind. Born 15 weeks premature in December 1993, Flowers lost her sight as an infant. When she was about 2 years old, she and her mother plucked out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on the piano. From there the change was quick. “When Rachel started playing that tune on her own, every day she would go further into it,” said her father, Danny, “and before six months went by she was playing Beethoven.”

From Flowers’ perspective, blindness is a challenge, but it makes no difference to her musically. “It’s all about spatial awareness,” she said. 

As we learn from the film, that spatial awareness is acute. Piano, synthesizers, flute, guitar, ukulele. David Pinto, founder of the Academy of Music for the Blind in Los Angeles and one of Flowers’ early teachers, describes her unique talent as “one in 10,000.”

Her talent, however, is not limited to just playing. When they first worked together, Pinto wondered whether or not she could compose originally. As he and others quickly learned, she can; from rock to jazz to classical compositions such as her symphonic piece At the End of the Day, which is performed in the film by Flowers and the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony.

DeStefano worked hard to build bridges with the Flowers family. Other projects had been proposed to them but gone nowhere. Jeanie felt that DeStefano’s project was different. “He came out to hear her play,” she said. “He got his materials together. It just seemed like he put forth the effort to show us that he could really do it.”

For his part, DeStefano was as good as his word. An early highlight of filming was a free Flowers concert at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl in August 2014, where the director assembled a highly competent local crew, including lead cinematographers David Pu’u and Nik Blaskovich.

All told, the film took two years to complete. Production funds were raised from more than 150 donors worldwide, including seed money from co-producers Patti Channer, Jordan and Sandra Laby, Randell J. Brasher and Mary Karrh, as well as from Ventura County philanthropist Barbara Meister. The late Micheline Sakharoff was associate producer.

The end result is a documented transformation of Flowers from a young prodigy to a 22-year-old rising star among music stars. The film shows her changing physically, emotionally and musically. “It’s like a chart that keeps peaking,” said DeStefano, “and you see that on film.”

The audience continually watches Flowers go from house to stage and back. Starting with a vocal recital at a church in Ventura, Flowers jumps from her home studio to musical performances with such artists as jazz musician Arturo Sandoval and Bay Area jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti.

Eventually she performs in Las Vegas with rocker Dweezil Zappa at the swanky Brooklyn Bowl. Flowers stuns the audience with a rousing keyboard interlude on “Inca Roads” and a blazing guitar duel with Dweezil on “Montana.”

DeStefano presents this story visually and without comment. “This is not an explaining film,” he notes. “This is an impressionistic film. There’s something mysterious and ineffable about Rachel that will never be known.” 

Mysterious? Ineffable? Sure, but also human. As with any parent and child, home is where Flowers originates and finds her grounding. Moving away is expected, especially with her talent. The movie’s tagline, “In a world filled with noise, there is another sound worth hearing, and her name is Rachel Flowers,” suggests that others will seek out this prodigy and her magical music. Her mother wrestles with this, and the viewer is left to wonder: Where will Rachel go next? Who knows? But after watching Hearing Is Believing, you’ll be convinced that Flowers is a bird in flight. The girl has wings and she’s just got to fly. 

 

Hearing Is Believing is being presented by the Ventura Film Society and will be shown on Thursday, June 9, at 6:30 and 7 p.m. at the Cinemark Century 10 Theater, 555 E. Main St., in Downtown Ventura.

Tickets are available online at venturafilmsociety.com/tickets.html and at the VFS Will Call table outside the theater the evening of the screening.

For more info call 628-2299 or email info@venturafilmsociety.com.