SXSW Film Review: World Premiere of ‘Resynator’

Alison Tavel’s moving documentary about her late father premiered on Sunday, March 10.

Alison Tavel’s documentary about her late father’s synthesizer is a profoundly moving journey.

Alison Tavel never knew her father, Don. He died at age 36 when she was ten weeks old. As she grew up, though, she kept hearing about the man’s musical genius. He created a synthesizer called the Resynator in the late seventies, and spent the rest of his life trying to get it to market.

It becomes her goal to bring the Resynator back to life and secure his legacy when she finds Don’s original prototype in her grandmother’s attic. This triggers an adventure she never expected — a journey that will let her begin to know the man whose life she missed. As she visits her father’s relatives, she begins to uncover an unexpected portrait of the man. A genius, certainly, but not without his flaws.

When she meets her father’s twin brother for the first time, he says: “Listen. This is your father’s voice. See these hands? These are your father’s hands.” It’s quite affecting. Even her mother has some secrets to reveal that Alison had never heard before.

Alison Tavel

With the help of Don’s former colleagues, Alison gets the Resynator operating again. Her goal is to exhibit it at NAMM, the same trade show her father went to decades before. She’s heartbroken, however, when the machine refuses to work.

But the film isn’t without its jubilant moments. The synthesizer is repaired (again!) and Alison brings in musician friends to jam with it. They’re all blown away by the device. Fred Armisen even comments that it has a voice.

Her journey takes her around the world. She goes to London to talk to Peter Gabriel, who fondly remembers the Resynator. In Colombia, she meets with synth guru Christian Castagno, who brings his musician friends over to perform along with it.

The film is well-constructed, mixing vintage and contemporary footage with Danny Madden’s marvelous animation. There are several cinematographers — Justin Key, Max Cutrone, David Yeaman and Beth Cloutier. This is probably due to the length of time it took to make the film and all the globe-hopping. Kathryn Robson and Chris Gibson’s editing is kinetic, and Chris Ruggiero’s fine score contains Resynator cues, of course.

This is what good documentary filmmaking is all about. Resynator premiered at SXSW on Sunday, March 10. It encores March 13 and March 16. Check the Resynator website for showtimes and locations.

Photos courtesy Resynator LLC. Feature photo: Don Tavel.

Kurt Gardner



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