Hot Docs Review: 'Pipe Dreams' Is a Gripping Look at an International Music Competition Directed by Stacey Tenenbaum
Published Apr 24, 2019Stacey Tenenbaum's surprisingly high-stakes documentary Pipe Dreams follows five musicians in the months leading up to the Canadian International Organ Competition (CIOC), or, as competitor Yuan Shen refers to it, "Olympics for [the] organ." The youngest competitor, Sebastian Heindl, says the competition could function as his jumping off point to being "a young star."
Leaning into the drama of competition, Pipe Dreams travels from China to the U.S., highlighting each competitor's dedication to the instrument. As a kid, Alcee Chriss III attended black churches that didn't have organs, so he called up surrounding organists until he found someone willing to teach him. Thomas Gaynor, a New Zealand organist, moved to New York to be able to study with his teacher, David Hicks. And Yuan Shen, the first CIOC competitor from China, wants to make her father proud, and open the door for others.
For each musician, the prospect of winning looms as large as the great Casavant organ at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica that they perform on. Of course, the challenging music booming through its 7000 pipes doesn't hurt the drama, either.