River City Drumbeat is solid, inspiring filmmaking. Highly recommended.

Ed “Nardie” White co-founded the River City Drum Corps in Louisville 30 years ago, and the film follows his transition out of leadership as his past pupil, Albert Shumake, takes on the role of director. White is a fascinating figure who has lived his life on Louisville’s west side and has perspective on the way in which the culture has changed (or hasn’t). He started the drumline as a way to encourage kids to join a productive community instead of into drugs and alcohol. Kids need that; in the impoverished areas of Lousiville, they need it even more. White lost a granddaughter to violence and knows the possible costs all too well.

White is also a visual artist, and some of the best moments of River City Drumbeat occur when the story follows him into his work and thoughts about history and culture. He emphasizes that despite its position in a slave-free state for parts of its existence, Louisville was famously a large port in the sale of slaves up the Ohio River. Its tumultuous handling of racial disparities remains noteworthy, and the relevance of those to national news is particularly notable now given the protests following Breonna Taylor’s murder at the hands of police executing an illegal break-in at her home.

Drumbeat, though, is focused on the positive results of the River City Drum Corps. It also tells the story of (then) high-school seniors ready to move on to their next stage in life, speaking to how their membership in this community challenged and prepared them to move off to college and find their new path in life. Shumake — in his mid-30s and a father — is a testament to the outcome of what it means to belong in this organization. He and White don’t always agree on the direction the corps should take, but their disagreements come from mutual respect and recognition of generational differences. It is an all-around wonderful story.

The 29th Annual Heartland Festival will be held October 8-18, 2020, with both virtual and drive-in screening options. Check out the official website for screening times and ticket information.