IF YOU'RE A STUPID AMERICAN like me, there's a good chance you can't place Saint Lucia on a globe—it's a relatively small, rugged paradise in the lower portion of the Caribbean, with a population that hovers around 180,000. The island nation also has a curious preoccupation with classic country music, owing to the installation of a US military base in the mid-20th century—a period that conveniently coincided with country's golden era.
This connection is deftly portrayed in Make Mine Country, an idiosyncratic documentary from Portland filmmaker Ian Berry. Berry eschews reliable pop-doc clichés in favor of a series of detached, candid snapshots of the island's natives performing, discussing, and listening to country. The opening shot of a woman and a boy at home, cooking and relaxing, reflexively singing along to country staple "You Done Me Wrong," is testament to Berry's success as a fly-on-the-wall documentarian—when the woman looks up during the song's final refrain and realizes that she's being recorded, she shoots the camera a sheepish, slightly irritated look. It's one of the film's most affecting scenes, both in its warmth and technical effortlessness.
There's a subtext here that, musicologically, Saint Lucia's interest in country isn't as far out as it might seem—styles indigenous to both the Caribbean and North America share a common ancestor in traditional African music (this pretty much applies to every form of popular music though, save like, EDM and classical). It's a fact worth repeating, but it doesn't do a whole lot to explain the near-religious degrees of rabidity that country and its accompanying culture inspires in Berry's subjects, like the DJ belting along to Connie Smith's "Thank You For Loving Me" or the mortician with an Elvis Presley obsession that could put Jesco White to shame. In Make Mine Country, humanity's relationship with music is captured in its simplest, most beautiful form. And anything beautiful isn't worth trying to explain, anyway.