He’s a bluegrass superstar and a rising talent across other genres. He’s an icon and an inspiration. He is eleven-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year and even a Grammy Award nominee, but that’s just a small part of Michael Cleveland’s story. Some even consider him the greatest fiddle player of all time.
Michael Cleveland was born blind and with a cleft palate, and in early childhood lost 80% of the hearing in his left ear. In spite of physical challenges, he undertook a musical career undeterred and has ascended to the highest possible echelons of his genre.
Flamekeeper: The Michael Cleveland Story now released online, is a feature-length documentary for audiences worldwide.
Director John Presley brings his expert eye and heart for storytelling to the project. The film, while visually engaging, was also designed with Cleveland himself in mind.
I learned that our visually impaired friends see the world in an entirely different way. One of my goals was to create a film that Michael would be able to experience and enjoy through sound alone. I have felt deeply honoured to tell his inspirational story and present his talent to new audiences around the world – John Presley.
Years of commercial and short film work, along with his experience as a musician, led the director on a journey to uncover how Cleveland became the artist—and person—he is today.
When I was first approached about the idea of a documentary film about me, I was definitely surprised, and it still seems so surreal. For as long as I’ve been playing music professionally, I have made it a point to keep the focus on the music and not the fact that I am visually impaired. I decided that if I was going to have a career in music, I wanted to make it on my abilities as a musician and not the fact that I was blind. After I talked to John and took a few days to think it over and run it by my family and the rest of the Flamekeeper team, I realized that this could be an inspiration to some young kid somewhere with a dream that looks as impossible as it seemed to me when I was growing up and dreaming of a career in music – Michael Cleveland.
Flamekeeper features interviews with 14-time Grammy Award winner Bela Fleck and 21-time Grammy Award winner Vince Gill. Also appearing in the film are such music notables as Sam Bush, Jens Kruger, Jeff White, the Bibelhauser Brothers and Andy Statman.
It’s wicked to see how much music he pulls out of a bow. He’s untouchable – Vince Gill.
Flamekeeper was produced by Validate Films and is Presley’s first feature-length documentary film. Presley was joined on the project by co-producer Cortlandt Ingram, a familiar name in the bluegrass world. After winning over one hundred fiddle contests early in his career, Ingram founded a company providing audio and lighting resources for events across the nation. Ingram’s knowledge of the bluegrass genre was an invaluable asset to the film’s production.