The Entertainers

comedic documentary details Old-Time Piano contest

Brittni Straseske

Piano gloves: artifact of a bygone era when pianos were filthy.
Piano gloves: artifact of a bygone era when pianos were filthy.

While many have forgotten old-time piano music, local filmmakers Nick Holle and Michael Zimmer (Wut Wut Alma, Illegal Use of Joe Zopp) keep the spirit of ragtime alive in their new documentary, The Entertainers. The comedic documentary goes deep within the die-hard niche by following six pianists, each striving to become the World’s Greatest Old-Time Piano Player. Every Memorial Day, competitors come together in Peoria, Illinois to compete in the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest. Viewers of The Entertainer will be taken through the daily lives of six pianists, seeing them at home, at work, and preparing for the contest. (All the while picking who you’ll root for and who you won’t, not unlike popular documentaries like Spellbound and Word Wars.) The competitors range from a 17-year-old prodigy to a Native American professor and author. The competition is fierce, with each player striving to impress the judges with the spin they put on classic (written before 1930) ragtime tunes. The full-length film chronicles the two-day competition in which contestants play two songs in three separate rounds. There are heart-warming moments, there are ups and downs, and you can bet there’s drama. The Entertainers shows that America’s first real “pop music” is still as vibrant and contagious as when it was in its prime. Visit and for more details on the screenings, and keep an eye on this very publication for the possibility of a local screening. Official website:

Film festival debuts of The Entertainers • Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison: April 20 at 9:30pm in Chazen Museum of Art, and April 21 at 1:30pm in UW Cinematheque • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival in Mpls: April 28 at 9:20pm and April 29 at 3:30pm, both in St. Anthony Theatre

Check out the trailer:

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