Step inside one of the most competitive conservatories in the world, where the allure of fame, money, and the pressure to achieve a concert career push a group of young pianists to the brink - testing friendship, love, and their sense of community. Andreas Goodman, desperately needing success on the competition circuit, heads to Oberlin to study with Olga Primakova - herself a major competition winner - who he thinks will bring him that success. The experiences he finds there will change him forever.
IVORY is a film with a subtly art house flavor, like an adagio movement from a great symphony, and in this ambience the film relates a story about what makes an artist. It is a touching, beautifully written (Laurence Gingold), directed (Andrew H. Chan debut), and photographed (Donald M. Morgan) tale of the trials of young artists striving to become established, even well known and famous. But it is far more than an exploration of the lives of young pianists training for the mighty Liszt Competition in Budapest, Hungary: this is a personal story of the relationship between teacher and student and the spectrum of triumphs and failures that shape their lives. Andreas Goodman (Tim Draxl) is a piano student whose mother frequently shares her disappointment at his failure at age 23 to have made a career of his music: Andreas grandfather had been a highly regarded concert pianist and the desire (and pressure) to emulate him is almost overwhelming. Andreas leaves his longtime piano coach Leon Spencer (Martin Landau) and enrolls in Oberlin Conservatory to study with Olga Primkova (Erika Marozsán), a brilliant pianist who gave up a career in performance to become a teacher. At Oberlin Andreas meets Jake Solochek (Travis Fimmel) who is a fellow pianist but also a drug abusing Lothario. Jake learns some aspects of humanity from Jake and they both are infatuated with opera student Alicia (Beau Garrett). As Andreas and Jake prepare for entering the Liszt Competition Alicia bids them both farewell as she decides that her career as an opera soprano is more important. The competition arrives and Andreas and Jake (and Olga as a juror) are off to Budapest. It is here in the extraordinary beauty of Hungary that Andreas feels driven to win the competition, even going against some advice from Olga. As the Competition begins Andreas discovers that his previous piano coach Leon Spencer is a judge with Olga. Old memories arise for Andreas as well as for Olga and as the competition proceeds both Andreas and Jake are in the finals until the last round when neither makes it. Olga has always shared with Andreas that making music is enough that teaching is as rewarding as concertizing and now Andreas must accept that truth. It is rare when a film about a music competition can become more than a dissection of the aspects of competing, but IVORY, in a splendid fashion, manages to use the competition as a nidus to examine the minds and lives of artists in the making as well as artists who have always stayed behind the scenes teaching. The cast is uniformly excellent, with a particularly standout performance by Tim Draxl: his character is the best sculpted and is the center of the story and he manages it very well indeed. Kudos to the entire crew and cast of this sensitive, visually and aurally stunning little film. It is a winner. --Grady Harp
The life of a music major, with the seemingly never ending schedule of practices, competitions, recitals, and perfectionism, is a very trying one. The constant pressure from families, teachers, and students themselves to be the best can be enough to break even the strongest, most talented artist. Ivory demonstrates this pressure, and shows how two very different competing students handle their budding careers as concert pianists. Andreas Goodman (Tim Draxl) is a twenty three year old pianist working tirelessly on his master s degree. He feels he is still living in the shadows of his famous pianist grandfather and in an attempt to regain control of his career, he leaves his longtime piano instructor, and decides that he will be competing at the Liszt competition in Budapest. He also seeks out the teaching of a new instructor, Olga Primkova, who was the youngest female to ever win the prestigious Liszt competition. At the Oberlin Conservatory, Andreas encounters rivalry in another student named Jake (Travis Fimmel). Jake is flamboyant, confident, and one of the best pianists in the program; however, he is also crude, insensitive, and relies on recreational drugs to enhance his performance. In addition to all of this, he also happens to be dating Alicia, a beautiful operatic soprano who is growing tired of Jake s chauvinistic ways and finds peace in occasionally dating Andreas on the side. Andreas is much more reserved than Jake, hoping that his morality will help him succeed. But when the two finally arrive in Budapest for the Liszt competition, they are back to being mere competitors onstage; the judges have no idea of the bitter rivalry that has plagued them. The film is rich with color, with over-saturation that would make Baz Luhrmann proud. First time director Andrew Chan was smart to use the piano so cleverly with his camera angles, using the surface of it sometimes as a mirror. The soothing classical music that is played throughout should elevate the film, making it one that is suitable for all audiences whether musically inclined or not. Ivory shows how music takes over the lives of these pianists in a different way than it does everyone else; visually and musically it is a wonderful film. However, Andreas s constant voice over tells the story in ways that the screenplay should. Especially when awkward cuts are made, for example in the middle of an argument between Andreas and Alicia, and instead of fleshing out the argument onscreen, details of the result are heard in voiceover afterward from Andreas s point of view. All of the characters are interesting in their own way and they deserve to be heard onscreen. Tim Draxl is already a recording star in Australia and he could easily extend his fame into America if he continues on this path. As could Travis Fimmell, who is possibly the most compelling actor to watch in the film. One key scene features the two actors in a piano duel with intensity that rivals the piano duel between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Martin Landau has a small role as Leon Spencer, the piano teacher that Andreas left, and he steals the film as soon as he appears onscreen. Ivory is the first script written by Laurence Gingold, himself a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory. With so many comparisons between the writer and the main character, one has to wonder how much of the story is autobiographical, or comes from his own experiences. On the surface, it seems that Ivory will most likely appeal only to music majors, but the story of conflicted college kids struggling to find their identities, launch their careers, and fall in love, will appeal to the masses. --Jenny Rebekah Sherman, Indiepulse
Sensitive, well acted and moving... A must see for any artist! --Mike Sargent, WBAI