The Seattle International Film Festival is an extraordinary way to sink into a magical time bunker lovingly shared with other film freaks. And that also means music junkies who love the big screen and other worlds seen perennially at SIFF as well, as you will find from the line up offered and the folks who hang out at local venues and bars after screenings. It runs from May 20 to June 13, and includes live performances from Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields to Seattle roots-raked whiskey-soaked tendrils of grace, The Maldives. They’re playing live to movies at the Paramount and the Triple Door!
Here’s the Face The Music series line-up for SIFF 2010:
- Amplified Seattle, directed by John Jeffcoat (USA, 2010). Director Intimate portrayals of 13 Seattle bands in these gorgeously shot short documentaries, created as complementary pieces to MTV’s $5 Cover: Seattle series.
- Beyond Ipanema, directed by Guto Barra (Brazil, 2009). From Bossa Nova to baile funk. Featuring interviews with Caetano Veloso, David Byrne, and M.I.A.
- Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, directed by Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont (Canada, 2009). A comparison of the mysterious classical artist’s flamboyant public personality with his very different private life.
- Rejoice and Shout, directed by Don McGlynn (USA, 2009). The musical history of African-American gospel music going back 200 years, and into its effect on modern soul and R&B.
- Ride, Rise, Roar, directed by David Hillman Curtis (USA, 2010). David Byrne and Brian Eno’s collaborations in this concert tour film (also featuring interviews).
- Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, directed by Stascha Bader (Quebec Canada, 2010). Ken Boothe and other greats discuss the brief but inspirational transitional music between the original ska era and the eventual domination of reggae.
- Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, directed by Mat Whitecross, (United Kingdom, 2010). Andy Serkis as Stiff Records’ anti-star Ian Dury, a role model for smart rogues and pub-punk musicians since the late 70s.
- Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, directed by Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara (USA, 2010). A classy, hilarious look at the punk-era spawned singer-songwriter who gets called a genius by people who probably still want to beat him up.
- The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, directed by Leanne Pooley (New Zealand, 2009). Twin sister Kiwis Lynda and Jools combine international C&W, the beautiful and strange art of yodeling, and a strong and unique presence to the world in this eagerly awaited documentary (and they’re coming to the festival!).
I was so flabbergasted to see the diabolically seductive line-up of films about the musical world for this year’s SIFF, I had to chat with the people responsible for the eight-film Face The Music series (as well as probably a lot of other things in the programming): Beth Barrett, Programming Manager and guiding spirit who beams true joy for cinema every time she introduces a SIFF flick; and Clare Canzoneri, Programming Coordinator who focuses specifically on Face The Music (and when I met her at the commencement, was willing to dig passionately into ideas about music, film, and the art of both to a hobo-stylee dude she just met).
This year we will be seeing deep histories on Brazilian music, the gospel and reggae music cultures, a loving ode to Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, an examination of David Byrne’s and Brian Eno’s creative partnership and live energy, and “awesome yodeling sisters.” What excites you the most about the movies selected for the Seattle International Film Festival this year, and why?
Beth Barrett: The films selected for SIFF this year excite me in so many ways – the myriad of stories, the ability to travel the world while never leaving your seat, and the way that films allow you to dip your toes into other peoples lives. The Face the Music series is a small microcosm of the variety that SIFF presents – a little bit rock-n-roll, a little bit soul, a little bit salsa, a little bit yodel...
Clare Canzoneri: What excites me the most about the large number of films in the Festival are that they represent so many different countries, so many different people and places in the world. In Face the Music, I love the variety of musical genres showcased and personalities explored. As a whole, FTM is like one big wonderful enhanced mix tape that I stayed up past my bedtime collaging a cover for and can’t wait to pass out to everyone.
Music movies seem to be a vital part of the Seattle International Film Festival line up every year. When did the “Face The Music” part of the program start, who started it, and what was the first line up of music films?
Beth: We started the Face the Music program in 2005 when we started to see a lot of documentaries about music and musicians bubbling to the surface. The first lineup was:
Arvo Pärt, 24 Preludes for a Fugue (Dorian Supin, Estonia)
Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (Margaret Brown, USA)
Drive Well, Sleep Carefully: On the Road with Death Cab For Cutie (Justin Mitchell, USA)
Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons (Gandulf Hennig, Germany)
The Gits (Kerri O’Kane, USA)
Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story (Scot Barbour, USA)
Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling (Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, USA)
Punk: Attitude (Don Letts, USA)
Rock School (Don Argott, USA)
Touch the Sound (Thomas Riedelsheimer, Germany)
Tudo Azul (Jesse Acevedo, Brazil)
Already we were a little bit rock-n-roll, little bit salsa, little bit country, and little bit whistle...
How did you two come to participate in this particular series?
Clare: I’m really as rabid about music as I am about film, and with that as my primary background, it seemed a natural fit. I came to SIFF last year from Bloomington, Indiana and spent 7 years there playing the harp and studying film. Music has always been a part of my life, from voraciously seeking out new music and playing the piano for as long as I can remember.
Beth: As the programming manager, I oversee all the programming, and love to work on Face the Music films because they are often a combination of awe-inspiring stories and an exposure to music I didn’t already know about (or already was in love with…) In 2006 we had a documentary called “Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?)” -- I found that I knew a lot of his songs, but had no idea about the story of his life, and his artistry, and now I listen to the songs with a lot more attention.
I’ve only been going to SIFF for the past three years -- has it always been around eight films per festival? Is that a specific decision made by SIFF -- and are you happy with that amount? Why or why not?
Beth: The first year, we had twelve features, this year eight, and we have had from 8-12 films each year in between– it is flexible, depending on the films we find that fit in the program. I think that it is a great range – enough to explore a lot of different types of musical styles.
Clare: I’m happy with eight films in this section this year, though there are several other music films in other sections. Music is one of the most important aspects of a film to me. A bad score or soundtrack can really ruin an otherwise decent film.
How long does it take to pick eight out of probably so many movies submitted that document in-time or timeless musical biographies, the general music culture and specifically the Seattle milieu, and other themes? How many are left out?
Beth: We considered about 70 films in this section specifically, and almost 4,000 features in general to come to the 8 in the Face the Music and 255 overall features.
Clare: We track films all year long and start viewing the submissions like crazy in early autumn, so it takes quite a while and we watch all of the over 4,000 features that come our way.
Are there a couple you could mention you wish you could have squeezed in after the selections this year?
Beth: One film I would love to have screened (it opened in early May at the Grand Illusion) is “When You’re Strange,” about The Doors and Jim Morrison, by Don DiCillo – a great look at a classic band!
Clare: One music film that played in Seattle earlier this year in the Irish Reels Film Festival that I hope more people are able to see is THE YELLOW BITTERN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LIAM CLANCY -- It’s a really beautiful, intimate, warm film that I absolutely loved.
Is there an “accidental novel” going on with this year’s selections -- a certain balance you may not have planned on, but think you have achieved with this line up?
Beth: I think it may be every year, but the individual voice of the artist is always front and center.
Clare: As a whole, the eight films in Face the Music this year are both and insight into the private lives and public personas of iconic musicians, and a broad celebration of the joys of music, as cheesy as that may sound – from yodeling twins to the bond between Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson to the joy that rocksteady hits like “Rivers of Babylon” still bring to its creators and fans almost 40 years after its conception.
Are there specific things you’re looking for -- multiculturally or aesthetically?
Beth: We are looking to cover a wide range of musical styles, and make an effort to not have all “rock” documentaries, or all films about banjo players – SIFF is a very multicultural festival, and all the films play a part in that
Clare: For the entire Festival lineup, we are trying to showcase people, places, sights and sounds from every corner of the world. And that’s evident in Face the Music, showcasing different types of music and musicians in different visual ways.
Anything you can guess will be a big “break out” surprise this year?
Beth: I really think that The Topp Twins: The Untouchable Girls is going to be the big hit -- the pride of New Zealand, the Topp Twins are identical twin lesbian yodelers who use their specific style of political camp and humor to get a serious message to people.
Clare: Identical twin lesbian New Zealand yodelers! It’s hard to go wrong there, and they are truly awesome… and they are scheduled to be here, so it’s going to be an extra fun screening. Aside from that, I’m hoping that audiences love the Glenn Gould doc as much as I do (Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould) and I’m also crazy about the David Byrne concert film Ride, Rise, Roar which has beautifully shot performances and is a riveting look at his last tour and the dance aspect of it.
Are there types of movies you try to avoid?
Beth: I personally am not big on films that scare people, so... but we luckily have lots of programmers that do like those! In Face the Music films, bring them on – we watch everything.
Clare: Music films with bad music!
Most of the selections this year are documentaries, with one biopic (about British pub-punk rocker Ian Dury, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll -- thank you, BTW, I’m really eager to see that one). Is this just the way it happened, or has been response normally been better for docs than fictional or created-narrative films?
Beth: There are not as many narrative biopics about musicians as there are documentaries out there, and we are trying to present films that cover that wide range, and much of those are documentary.
Clare: I’m generally more interested in music documentaries for Face the Music (and there are always more of them than there are narratives), as a couple of things I look in programming FTM are for people to learn about a genre, musical icon, or some other aspect of music and to see and hear great performances on screen – and the documentary form is usually better suited for that.
Right off the bat, the past couple of years, I know that movies like “Anvil” (about dogged metal indie vets) screened at SIFF went on to be a fan favorite in the general market. Can you give me some more historical examples?
Beth: Girls Rock! -- from 2007 -- went on to have a really good theatrical run, and strong DVD sales.
Tell us how the tie in with classic films and live music events came about. This year you have The Maldives playing an OST to Riders of the Purple Sage (1925) at the Triple Door on May 25; and Stephin Merrit, a notorious fan of science fiction films, playing with organist David Hegarty to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916) at the Paramount. How did these ideas come up, come to you, and how are they able to happen?
Beth: We have had live scores to silent films for a number of years -- in the past we have done really varied shows like: Portastatic with Tod Browning’s The Unknown (2006), Battleship Potemkin with the Alloy Orchestra (1999), and No Agfe with The Bear (2009) – music is such an integral part of the film experience, and it is really fun to hear another artist’s thoughts about what a score should be -- it gives the musician a lot of latitude to really play with sound that creates such a vibrant experience. Sometimes we know a band wants to participate, like Kinski in 2007, and we work with them to find the right film, sometimes we have a film that we want to screen because it is a new print or we are into it currently, and we look for a band that wants to score it -- it is always somewhat unexpected what comes out, and always a new wonderful show.
Thanks for enduring all this! One last question: I notice that some films like Nowhere Boy (about the early life of John Lennon) and Disco & The Atomic War could probably be in the FTM line up. Any reason why they’re left out of the FTM list? (Or should I not say anything if you’re sneaking them into the general line up in order to have more movies about music without getting in trouble?! If so, please feel free to skip this question.)
Beth: We actually cross list a number of films in many sections on the website and in interactive media, but the logistical nature of how our publications are laid out make us have to choose a single section for each -- there are so many films that have great scores, or music is integral to the film - the website gives us the ability to list films in many sections, and reach new audiences.
Clare: You’re right -- there are several other music-related films and we cross list several films in many sections, like Wheedle’s Groove is a music doc in our Northwest Connections section, all about the Seattle soul scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are a few films outside Face the Music with scores I’m really excited about, like When We Leave, a German narrative featuring music by German minimalist composer Max Richter, and Laura Poitras’ doc THE OATH was scored by Argentine classical composer Osvaldo Golijov (who also recently scored Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, which we showed last year).
Best wishes, and thanks so much for your time!