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How to Break a World Record (2024) Review

In 2022 the members of the Greenville, South Carolina band Brother Oliver planned to shoot a humorous video about their mandolin player Stephen Oliver attempting to break the world record for playing the mandolin. A script was written, and plans were made to have a well known local comedian make an appearance in it.

Then Stephen had a different idea, instead of spoofing it, why not actually break the current record of 26 hours and 41 minutes set by Kuntal Raj Chakraborty, set in 2017? And suddenly what was going to be a couple of days filming for a 10-minute YouTube clip became months of preparation for a legitimate attempt, and a feature documentary, How to Break a World Record, documenting it.

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The first half hour or so of How to Break a World Record gives the viewer a quick introduction to Stephen, how he got into playing music, buying a mandolin on a whim, figuring out how to incorporate it into the band’s music despite there being little information about electric mandolins on-line at the time, and a bit about the band itself.

This is mixed in with anecdotes about visiting a doctor for advice on how to prepare for the attempt, and then doing absolutely nothing that he recommended. What there isn’t however is anything about the actual process of getting the attempt certified by Guinness, arranging for qualified observers, etc. Even a bit here and there, about where they were in the process and what they had to do next, would have given a sense of time passing and the day of the attempt coming closer. What does add a sense of urgency to the proceedings however is the news that Chakraborty has posted his plans to break his own record and play for 48 hours.

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This is all told with a mix of footage they recorded at the time and interviews with Stephen, his brother and bandmate Andrew P. Oliver, their friend Dakota Parler who drove down from Michigan to support them, director Dan Johnson and Jimmy Matthews. It’s all fairly lightweight but enjoyable, up until the actual attempt at the record itself, when things start to bog down a bit.

The problem is, most of it is simply Stephen sitting playing in a near empty club, Swanson’s Warehouse, since the public was only admitted for the final hour. Some of the footage of him on the breaks the rules allowed is interesting, but much of the jokes and comments from his friends seem like in jokes people who know him, or fans of the band would find amusing, but went past me.

After the attempt, things pick back up, with talk about preparing the evidence for Guinness and a Zoom call between them and Chakraborty. The film ends with a note that he did make another attempt at the record, with different observers saying he played anywhere between 30 and 38 hours. That discrepancy may be why Stephen’s time of 27 hours, 8 minutes and 33 seconds is still listed as the record.

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In that regard, How to Break a World Record may be like Create or Die, a film about another South Carolinian, filmmaker David Axe. While it would be interesting to anyone watching it, you needed to be familiar with his films and especially Acorn, the one he was filming while it was being shot. As such, it would be best as an extra on the film’s Blu-ray.

And those who know the people involved, are fans of Brother Oliver or play the mandolin, will get the most out of How to Break a World Record. Others should find it interesting, but a bit low-key and somewhat less compelling.

Freestyle Digital Media has released How to Break a World Record on DVD as well as to Digital and VOD Platforms. You can check the film’s website or Facebook page for more information.

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