Mockumentary – a film that has the look and feel of a television documentary, but with the irreverent humor and slapstick of a comedy, designed to “mock” the documentary or subject it features.

I know what you may be thinking as you begin to peruse this article. Why would a media outlet that covers the local Columbus music scene do a story on a movie?

If the truth be told, it falls squarely into our bailiwick. It’s a film about a band that parodies a band we really dig, filmed in and around Columbus, and starring residents of this city we call home. It checks all the boxes that make up our motto… #SupportLocalMusic.

So, when we were offered the chance to attend the Columbus premiere of Mock and Roll at the Gateway Film Center, how could we say no?

Aditi Molly Bhanja on the red carpet for the Columbus premiere of Mock and Roll (Credit: Music In Motion Columbus)

The 95-minute film has already garnered acclaim on the independent film festival circuit, winning Best Feature at the Inside The Loop Film Festival (Sharonville, OH). It was nominated for Best Comedy, Best Director, Best Editor, Best Poster, Best Feature Actor (Chris Wolfe) and Best Feature Actress (Aditi Molly Bhanja) at the Austin Revolution Film Festival (TX). It was also nominated for Best Feature and Best Original Score at the EyeCatcher International Film Festival (OK).

The film follows the misadventures of four friends in a band as they attempt to make it to the annual SXSW festival. They are a parody band that pays homage, in their own way, to Ohio’s own Black Owls. If you haven’t heard of the Black Owls, that is something that needs to be rectified pronto. In the humble opinion of this writer, they are almost criminally underrated.

“We don’t make fun of other people’s music,” says Rick in the film (played by Chris Wolfe), “we celebrate it while putting a whole new twist on it to bring new generations of fans music and laughter.”

Without giving too much away, the hapless friends run through a comedy of errors, as each fundraising scheme just doesn’t work out in their favor. The struggles they endure, along with some unwise decisions, elicit laughter throughout the movie. One could easily imagine any number of local bands doing many of the same things as the film’s band does in their attempt to make money.

Executive Producer Mark Stewart accepts the Best Feature award (Credit: insidetheloopfilmfest on Instagram)

The film is the brainchild of Executive Producer and Columbus resident, Mark Stewart (Stewbean Productions). It was co-written with Ben Bacharach-White (Double Dag Productions) and Julian Cicone (screenplay). The four actors that make up the band are Columbus resident Aditi Molly Bhanja, who portrays Robin (vocals, guitar), Chris Wolfe as Rick (guitar), Pakob Jarernpone as Tom (bass) and Andrew Yackel as Bun (drums).

Bhanja sings all the songs that the film’s band, Liberty Mean (taken from a Black Owls song) play in the movie, having recorded her vocal tracks full of parody lyrics with the members of the Black Owls themselves.

“I saw their (Mock and Roll) casting call,” said Bhanja, “and the character description was: Robin, lead singer of the band, ambitious, strong-willed, stubborn. I was like ‘Wow, that’s me!’ I loved everything about this, wanted this and decided I’m going for it.

Some of the cast/crew of the film hold a Q&A after the Columbus premiere (Credit: Mock and Roll)

“After I sent my audition in, they called me back and said you have sing. So, I started listening to Black Owls songs all day and practicing in the car. I was like, how do I be a rock star? I mean, being a rock star is much different than being a choral singer or singing acapella, which is what I’m used to. I think it’s sometimes harder for a girl to get that bravado across that rock stars have. So, I watched a lot of videos of female rock stars and how they use the space on stage while moving their bodies. I also stole some moves from David (Butler) of the Black Owls.”

Many of the venues that the band performs in will be recognizable, with scenes shot in the Big Room Bar, The Tree Bar, Ace of Cups, Rehab Tavern and others. The members of the Black Owls make a cameo in the film, as does Roger Earl (drummer for Foghat) and Michael Stanley. There’s also an appearance by Randy Malloy of CD 102.5, in a short speaking role.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you… the practice space used by Liberty Mean in the film is the Black Owls real practice space.

This was Bhanja’s first feature film, although she had done a couple of short films and music videos in college. She earned her undergraduate degree in Theater from Case Western in Cleveland, OH. She’s presently a student at NYU, going for her Master’s in Public Health.

Liberty Mean, the band in Mock and Roll…
(Credit: Mock and Roll)

The question had to be asked… had she ever heard of the Black Owls before landing the role of Robin?

“I had not,” she admitted. “Once I got the part, I did a deep dive and listened to everything that they had ever put out. I watched so many videos and did tons of research. I really fell in love with them.

“I have all of their CD’s now,” she said with a smile, “signed by the Owls.”

While the film is not nearly as over-the-top as the classic band mockumentary Spinal Tap, fans will appreciate and commiserate with the film’s band, nodding in agreement with many of the harebrained schemes.

While there is one scene that gets a bit darker and more serious, overall the comedy had this writer chuckling mightily throughout the film with its many humorous moments. If you’re in a band, or are a music fan in general, this is a film you really should make the effort to see.

With Stewart attempting to secure distribution for the film, we’re sure that it will garner more awards as it winds its way through the many film festivals over the coming months.

Ed. – Mark Stewart will be a guest on the Monday (December 4) episode of The Cat Club Podcast. Who knows? Some of the Black Owls may make an appearance, as well.