SIFF “Face the Music” preview: Damien Jurado and the Russian Avant-Garde


Screen shot of Ménilmontant

Each year SIFF organizes a live score event matching current musicians with silent filmmakers from a by-gone era. Past artists have included the Album Leaf, No Age and The Maldives. This year pairs local indie rock singer/songwriter Damien Jurado and Russian-born French avant-garde filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanoff in Damien Jurado and the Russian Avant-Garde.

Festival Screenings:

Wednesday June 8, at 7pm (all ages) at The Triple Door
Wednesday June 8, at 9:30pm (21+) at The Triple Door

One of my favorite events during the Seattle International Film Festival is a live event where they pair a current band/musician with a silent film from a by-gone era to do a live score. This year’s event is Wednesday June 8th at the Triple Door and features local indie folk rocker Damien Jurado and selected short works from Dimitri Kirsanoff in Damien Jurado & the Russian Avant-Garde.

Russian-born Dimitri Kirsanoff was a French Impressionist filmmaker whose career spanned nearly 30 years, but who is best known as a leader of the Parisian avant-garde movement through films like Ménilmontant (1926). His films were largely experimental and innovative both in style and technique (he was known for blending Russian style montages with French emotional flares). Seattle’s Damien Jurado is a natural born story teller. His music (which is also every experimental-especially through his use of found sounds and field recordings) is at times heart-wrenchingly honest and you can hear the ache, pain, or joy in his heart as he sings.

Damien recently spoke about Kirsanoff as a kindred spirit and what he did to prepare for Wednesday’s performances.

Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado

How did you get involved with SIFF and what attracted you to this project?

I have always wanted to score a movie. So when SIFF contacted me about doing a live score for a silent move, I thought ‘sure.’ When I found out that it was me who would be choosing the film that would be shown, I immediately thought, ‘Dimitri Kirsanoff.’ I saw his movies, when I was a junior in high school. However, there was one issue with choosing Dimitri Kirsanoff, and that was he made short movies and not full length features. Determined to score Kirsanoff’s work, I approached SIFF about changing up the format of past programs, and show shorts instead.

What do you find most in common between your work and Kirsanoff’s?

Well, first, that he keeps his work short. He didn’t feel the need to draw things out. He was able to work within his means using what he had at that moment. His stories get right to the point. Second, that his work is known to be a little sad….well, very sad. My own work has the same reputation.

Were there any film scores you found inspirational to you for this project?

Not necessarily though I do have favorite movie scores. The band Tindersticks, did the score for “Trouble Everyday”, which I think is brilliant. Also, the score to “The Thief”, by Tangerine Dream, is another great one.

Has this changed how you feel about dynamic between film and music?

Not really. I’ve always believed that music and film go hand in hand.

What did you find most challenging about this project?

The challenge has been my own mind. Thinking constantly, ‘I hope that I can honor Dimitri Kirsanoff, without fucking this up and embarrassing myself.’

How was working on this different than your usual songwriting process?

It’s more experimental. In the end, I’m making music in a live setting that I’ve always wanted to make on record. However, if I made a record with the music that I have composed for these films, I think it would confuse my fans.

How many times did you end up watching these films?

Too many times. I’m going to be up front… these films, though they are beautiful pieces of work, are very sad. Having to watch them over and over again, really took its toll on me after a while.

Damien Jurado will be playing a Living Room Recital with Kelli Schaefer on July 23rd. He is also part of the Doe Bay Festival and Portland Pickathon. More info on his website.

Here is part 1 of 5 of Kirsanoff’s Ménilmontant that Jurado will be adding a live score to on Wednesday:

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