Bering Strait

The Ballad of Bering Strait [Video/DVD]

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Director Nina Gilden Seavey's The Ballad of Bering Strait contains aspects of both The Making of the Band and Behind the Music in that it traces the development of a group on its way to the release of its first album and its first national tour. The most unusual aspect of the story is that Bering Strait is a septet of young, classically trained musicians from Obninsk, Russia, formed as children by their music teacher into an American-style country/bluegrass group. Discovered by American art dealer Ray Johnson while performing at a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, they are brought to Nashville by manager Mike Kinnamon, who puts them up in his house and gets them a record deal with Arista Nashville president Tim DuBois. That, however, is only the beginning of the story, which becomes a music-industry saga after DuBois leaves Arista for a startup label, then finally lands at MCA, taking Bering Strait with him at each step. They hold rehearsals and writing sessions, record an album with producer Brent Maher, and appear on The Grand Ole Opry, all while fielding phone calls from anxious parents back in Russia. As time goes by, they switch bass players and lead singer Natasha Borzilova sheds her long hair for a punk cut. Among all the travails, the documentary never really addresses the assumption by the band's handlers that its goal should be to sound like typical commercial Nashville country-pop, and it isn't until the end, with the group finally on tour opening for Trisha Yearwood at the Wolf Trap in Virginia, that they play an old-time country hoedown with Russian lyrics, the kind of head-turning performance that must have been what attracted attention back in Moscow. Seavey succeeds in making the viewer care about the bandmembers and hope for their future.