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Finding Her Beat is an engrossing look at the forming of the world’s first female/non-binary, largely Asian-American and LGBTQ+ Takio Drummer troupe. Set against the frozen expanse of Minnesota in the winter of 2020, we follow Korean adoptee and Executive Director of TaikoArts Midwest, Jennifer Weir as she begins to bring her dream concert to life with the talents and support of her wife, Takio drummer, Megan Chao-Smith.

The film picks up 17 months before the concert as the initial planning commences. The time, effort, and passion that lives within this ensemble of passionate performers are captured as they barrel toward their landmark concert. But with hindsight offering clarity, we wonder if this dream will suffer due to the impending pandemic. Directed by Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett, Finding Her Beat is a thunderously entertaining portrait of artistic passion and perseverance.

Having met Weir and Chao-Smith, we are introduced to the world of Taiko and its players. Originally performed strictly by men, the practice evolved into an art form. Soon after women, including a young Chieko Kojima, left the conventional expectations of her parents and decided to become a drummer. We also meet the tussle-haired force of nature from Tokyo, Kaoly Asano who explains that as a sick youth, she learned the healing power of drumming and performing. We also meet the charming Tiffany Tamaribuchi who travels from Sacramento, California to take part in the performance.

She is a broadly entertaining, walking smile that is at home on the stage. Of course, there are more artists. Too many to name off actually. Yet their stories are the same. Assembled from around the globe, the performers work to make their mark on the world of Taiko drumming and performance because this is their voice. 

Mikkelson and Pickett follow a pretty linear timeline. Having introduced us to the dream and the performers, we pick up when all of them descend on Minnesota. Most of the troupe calls an expansive AirBNB Home and the film jumps between personal and rehearsal time. We hear personal stories of identity and follow along as rehearsals begin to take a toll. The film doesn’t take the cheap shot of depicting any drama that might have arisen. Instead, this is an exploration of artistic support and perseverance. Every so often we are reminded of the timeline and the impending pandemic that we all know is coming. News clips speak of a flu in China that may just make it to the states. In the next scene, we see Tamaribuchi struggling in the rehearsal space with exhaustion. It is a riveting countdown to fate as we begin to wonder, whether or not the show will go on.

If you want to spoil it, google HERbeat. Suffice it to say, Finding Her Beat is easily one of the best docs of 2023 in that it does exactly what a true documentary should do. The film teaches us about another world wherein we find a little part of ourselves. During the rehearsal scenes the performers discuss what their show will be. One of them poses the question, “Should our goal be to give the audience what we think they want or to give the audience what they don’t know they long for?” Mikkelson and Pickett know the answer here and we left in breathless awe.

 Finding Her Beat – 8/10