Every performer has been there. Musicians, actors, comedians, magicians, acrobats, poets and whoever else gets up onto a stage in front of an audience, they all aim to show something that they’ve been working on. It’s that sense of silence, the sense that no-one’s listening, and no-one cares. You put yourself in front of the lights, you give everything you can; your best songs, your best jokes and your best tricks. Afterwards the response is meagre, half-hearted applause, a distance removed from the events onstage. If you’re lucky enough, you might at the very least get some money afterwards from the promoter, booker, or venue manager.
There’s a poignant scene in the documentary Everything the Light Touches, about South Wales-based Elvis tribute artist Juan Lozano, that conveys exactly that sense of removal. Lozano is playing at a birthday party somewhere in the Welsh Valleys, singing Elvis’ greatest hits to a backing track. He’s a good singer, capable of a convincing approximation of Elvis’ voice. In a later scene we hear him performing his own songs, and it’s a rich, resonant voice, but the birthday party audience doesn’t seem all that interested. People take a few photos on their smartphones, stare into space for a little bit, and finish their cakes.
Lozano talks of recording his own music, putting his own songs out there, and of his frustration at being pigeon-holed as an Elvis Tribute Act, not an artist in his own right. The Elvis thing is, after all, mostly about making a living. His original work is the heart and soul of his performance. For whatever reason, crowds are more willing to live with something they vaguely recognise than something that might move them. Lozano talks freely of his love for Elvis and his influence upon him. Not everyone can make a living out of performing onstage and one senses Lozano is grateful for this gift, but one also senses he wants to go further. He talks of getting his songs into a Disney film, giving him financial security for the rest of his life. Of course, it’s not likely to happen, but a man can dream.
The director, Ellen Evans, follows Lozano closely. He’s honest about his failures, and where he’s gone wrong in his life, but his optimism and charm shines through. He talks of his life being in a state of perpetual adolescence; he got cold feet over marriage and has spent most of his adult life living with his grandmother. Evans captures the sense of post-industrial decline and neglect of the Valleys town that Lozano lives in, perched just on the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It’s a region that’s full of history and beauty. Not that long ago, the towns that dot the Valleys were themselves dotted with factories and coal mines, but the decline of heavy industry has also coincided with political neglect, high unemployment and a general lack of funding in the area.
In Juan Lozano, Evans has found a subject that, though obviously not a miner, reflects that sense of regional neglect; a talented, genuine person who has largely never had the means to reach his full potential. It’s a wonderful short film, building a moving, sincere portrait of a man in just a handful of scenes. Premiering at the Wales International Documentary Festival on Friday 7th April at 2:15pm in the Maxime Cinema, there’s a bit of bizarre symmetry in that it’s not the only documentary about South Wales Elvis Tribute Acts at the festival. The feature film The King and Dai, directed by David Barnes, about the Elvis Festival in Porthcawl is a funny and eccentric film: in many ways a direct opposite of Everything the Light Touches. The two would certainly make a highly fascinating double-bill if you want to head along to the Wales International Documentary Festival to see them. You can find more information here.