MAPLEWOOD, NJ – There will be a special showing of the film, “The Entertainers,” at the Maplewood Theater on Tuesday, September 10, at 7:30 p.m., featuring a talk with the director Michael Zimmer and a live performance from featured pianist Ethan Uslan after the film. Both Zimmer and Uslan graduated from Columbia High School in 1997 and proceeds from the show will benefit the Columbia High School Music Department.
“The Entertainers” is a documentary that follows the journey of six contestants, including Uslan, at the World Championship Old Time Piano Playing Contest, which takes place annually in Peoria, Illinois.
Uslan studied classical piano while growing up in South Orange, and went on to major in classical piano performance at Indiana University. He has always loved ragtime and augmented his classical piano training by learning how to play like his heroes James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and George Gershwin.
“Growing up, I played all different types of music on piano,” said Uslan. “In college, I had a revelation when I realized that it was ragtime that I wanted to focus on.”
Uslan became a master of the form, has toured, recorded CDs and appeared on the radio program, “A Prairie Home Companion.” He learned about the World Championship while reading Sheet Music magazine in 2004 and has gone on to compete there most years since then.
Over dinner one night with his old friend Zimmer, he was describing the interesting people he had met at the competition, as well as the drama and rivalries behind the scenes.
“I told Michael, ‘It’s like a documentary just waiting to be made,’” Uslan said. With that, Zimmer was sold and packed some cameras and traveled with Uslan to the next contest in Peoria.
Zimmer had studied creative writing at the University of Southern California’s graduate school where he met fellow director Nick Holle. The two compiled more than 250 hours of film footage at the Championship and carved it into the finished film.
“The film follows six people from all over the country, “ said Zimmer. “They are all different, but they all share a love for this music.”
The competition began after the resurgence of ragtime music that was sparked by its use in the film, “The Sting,” in 1973, when Scott Joplin’s ragtime tune “The Entertainer” became a pop hit for Marvin Hamlisch and won an Academy Award.
“Ragtime was really America’s first pop music,” said Zimmer. There is still a strong love for this genre today.
“People from all walks of life love this music,” Uslan said.
The film has been seen all over the country on the film festival circuit and will be airing on some PBS stations some time in the future.
“It’s nice to see that people are responding so well to the film,” Zimmer said. He and Uslin are both excited to bring the film to Maplewood and to use the screening to raise money for the music department at their alma mater. “It’s a great program at Columbia, and we are so happy to support it.”
Zimmer and Uslan will give a talk after the screening and answer questions about the film. Uslan will also play some piano for the crowd.
This screening is sponsored by Matters Magazine, and Publisher Karen Duncan was instrumental in bringing the evening’s festivities together.
“Matters Magazine has always been a strong advocate for partnerships between our public schools and local commerce. When we were presented with the story on Ethan and Michael we knew this could be a remarkable opportunity,” Duncan said. “It’s been our pleasure to bring this film experience to our towns; and for our residents and students to meet two local graduates who are the epitome of ‘Deep Roots, Big Wings.’”
Purchase tickets here: MovieTickets.com.
The trailer for “The Entertainers” may be seen here: