The key to enjoying Amplify Her—a documentary about the unique challenges and triumph of seven women electronic musicians and DJs—lies in your attitude toward Burning Man-friendly electronic music and the aesthetics surrounding the annual gathering in Black Rock City, Nevada. If these things land outside your sphere of pleasure, as they do mine, you will find Nicole Sorochan and Ian MacKenzie's Amplify Her hard going, even at 89 minutes. However, if those things hit your sweet spot, you will love this film.
The directors' intentions are unimpeachable; we need more in-depth, inspirational works that examine women artists from a female perspective (the screenwriter is Tracey Friesen). While Amplify Her scrutinizes a few of the protagonists' lives and music, others receive sketchier treatment. This could simply be down to how compelling each figure's story is and the quality of their respective interviews. That being said, the women who garner the most screen time—AppleCat (Mya Hardman), Lux Moderna (Madeline Fauss), and Blondtron (Samantha Mathews)—do have substantial drama in their lives.
AppleCat was homeless at 15 and a mother at 21; one scene shows her DJing while carrying her daughter in one arm. Lux Moderna suffers from a chronic illness that causes her to feel as if plants are growing inside of her. Her ritualistic, mystical-hippie torch songs are actually the most interesting parts of the soundtrack. Blondtron is a bawdy performer who twerks in front of her gear during gigs while sporting booty-revealing outfits. Her artistic manifesto—#setyourpussyfree—went viral on Twitter, as well.
At one big festival, a male performer and an organizer pressures Blondtron to truncate her set. “You're not even a DJ,” the former sneers with unbridled sexism. “You're just using a MIDI controller.” (Maddeningly, the delay that pushed Blondtron overtime was caused by a bikini body contest that ran long.)
Amplify Her is beautifully shot and, as mentioned, it creatively captures the heavily tattooed/pierced/multihued-dreadlocked vibe of Burning Man, with generous use of slow-motion and accelerated-motion techniques, as well as animated passages that cleverly probe the artists' personal lives. The “sisters are doin' it for themselves” gestalt will surely motivate some viewers to get their own acts together. However, this critic thinks Seattle alone boasts at least seven female electronic musicians and DJs worthier than those depicted here. Perhaps another filmmaker's already working on that necessary project.