Strad Style (2017) [Hot Docs 2017]

A young man obsessed with building the perfect violin.  After he meets a famous soloist on the internet and tells him he can replicate a very specific violin, he now has a mission and a deadline that comes faster than expected.

Writer/director Stefan Avalos creates a view on a man and his obsession by following Daniel Houck, the violin maker, through his life and hardships.  The documentary is focused almost entirely on him and it creates its own small world where what Houck does and how he lives becomes almost logical.  His life is beyond of simple means, the man has a house but not enough money to heat it properly most of the time and is losing weight due to not eating enough, yet all he has goes into his violin-making passion.  Yet, Avalos shows him as someone who has an all-encompassing passion who is relatable and someone worth watching.  The way he is portrayed brings forth his humanity in all of the events that he basically self-creates by living the way he does.

The film centers on only one person for most of its runtime and it does not become boring as the subject is interesting and the way he is presented is as well.  Stefan Avalos is a one-man documentary-making machine as he writer, directed, shot, and edited this film, giving it his own personal touch and almost a personality of its own.  The film has a look that fits the subject, using the house Houck lives in to create a feeling of the world closing in on him, of things being desperate, maybe even more than he lets it show.  The film feels like a good representation of Houck’s life and lifestyle while showing what he does and how it might not work in the long run while at the same time giving some hope that perhaps he can get his life in order.  The way this is done is not condescending and just lets the viewer into Houck’s life as an observer, without p re-judgment.

Strad Style also gives a nice history lesson on famous violin makers, what made them special, and how they have become so valuable.  This is something that is worth exploring in and of itself as it is something that gives a background on Houck but also on the importance of properly making violins.  This adds to the narrative and creates a story that has depth and makes it feel somehow important in the bigger scheme of things.

The film has a lot of violin music involved obviously and the musician awaiting his new instrument in the film provides most of it.  Razvan Stoica plays the violin for this documentary’s soundtrack and his playing is marvelous.  His sound is something one expects from a virtuoso and fits with the film’s tone and imagery as it is all about the violin.  The music is beautiful and well played, which is the least that should be expected from a musician like Stoica who has an international reputation and following.

Strad Style is all about a man with very little in terms of materials and money who has a huge dream of making it big on the violin-making scenes.  The film grabs the viewer because everyone has a dream, whether they have the conviction to risk everything to achieve them or not.  This film shows how rewarding following your dreams can be, if you can survive the hardships to get there.