The Seattle International Film Festival’s Face The Music series is eagerly anticipated by music fans every year, and for extra flavor this season’s line-up has been curated by music maven/legendary DJ Marco Collins.
SIFF runs from May 17 to June 10, and the movies are screened at theaters all over the city, from Pacific Place to the Egyptian and many more, including theaters in Renton and now Everett. Types of movies are cut into what SIFF calls Pathways — groupings of themes, genres, and topics of films that make the most sense together.
Face The Music is co-sponsored by KEXP 90.3 Seattle, the Experience Music Project, among others. It is obviously the Pathway of primary interest to music fans hungry for backstory and revelations about all kinds of artists and sounds from around the world, so here’s a quick rundown about what’s available at SIFF 2012 during this year’s FTM series, including a live event and a free outdoor movie among the theater offerings:
Bad Brains: A Band in D.C. (Features Bad Brains, Henry Rollins, Ric Ocasek, Ian MacKaye, Adam Yauch, and Don Letts. USA 2012)
Co-director Benjamen Logan will be attending both screenings when this controversially buzzed about biopic plays in Seattle during SIFF, so if you have questions about what it’s like to interview notoriously bizarre and contentious (and of course wildly creative) lead singer HR, feel free to bring ‘em. Meanwhile, for those who don’t know the incredible influence Bad Brains had on punk, hardcore, grunge, and Black rock, and their unique relationship of religion to music, this documentary will clear up a ton of things you may not know about how music changed in the 80s. The interview subjects listed above aren’t here as trappings, each one of them had close contact with the insanely inspired D.C. band made up of supremely gifted African-American musicians who decided to purify punk into its most assertive essence whilst intoxicating it with Jah praise and worship bliss. And they will probably rant or apologize for the feuds Bad Brains got into, but their praise will be wholly sincere. The anecdotes will probably be awesomely entertaining and hopefully enlightening. Don’t miss this. Screenings May 20 9:00 p.m. at Pacific Place; May 23, at 9:00 p.m. at Harvard Exit.
Under African Skies (Features Paul Simon, David Byrne, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, etc. USA/South Africa, 2012)
Along with the Bad Brains doc, this will probably be the most talked about film in the FTM series for 2012, which is cool, as the music is great and the controversies worth talking about for hours. How exploitative was it for Paul Simon to record Graceland in Johannesburg during a boycott of South Africa’s odious and inhumane Apartheid system? Did it help the cause for him to take these musicians out of their caustic SA environment and bring them to New York to record and on the road with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba? Harry Belafonte wrestles with these questions, Quincy Jones does too, but most of all Paul Simon does, who doesn’t like to be told what to do and needed some fresh inspiration and really loved a jam called “Gumboots” on a cassette someone gave him in the early 80s. Whatever your opinion, this one is a must see to get the background on a cross-cultural collaboration which inspires and angers to this day. Screenings May 20, 6:30 p.m. at the Egyptian; Tuesday May 22 at 4:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown.
Beware of Mr. Baker (Features Cream, Blind Faith, etc. USA 2012)
Jay Bulger spent three months in South Africa interviewing and observing 60s drumming icon Ginger Baker for a Rolling Stone magazine article, and he got this wild, hairy biography out of it. As has been rumored, Baker punches Bulger in the face as the film opens, and then we get to learn of all life’s fuel that has been thrown on the master drummer’s internal fire since his glory days recording with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Drummers who love him and chat his oeuvre up include Charlie Watts, Steward Copeland, and Lars Ulrich, and they might have tales of trauma of their own to tell upon experiencing the bristly Mr. Baker. Winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at SXSW 2012. Screenings May 27 at 8:30 p.m. in Everett; May 31 at 6:30 p.m. at Harvard Exit; June 1 at 4:00 p.m. at Harvard Exit.
Charles Bradley: Soul of America (Features Charles Bradley, USA 2012)
Poor his whole life, starting out an orphan traumatized by the murder of his brother, and bouncing from Florida to Seattle to NYC before eventually recording his debut album No Time For Dreaming in his early 60s, this one-time James Brown impersonator has a hell of a story to tell. The 40 years of trials leading up to the 2011 release of that album are probably going to be astonishing to watch and especially to listen to. Screenings May 29, 6:30 p.m. at Harvard Exit; May 30 at 4:00 p.m. at Harvard Exit; and June 6 at 9:15 p.m. at Pacific Place.
El Gusto: The Good Mood (Ireland, Algeria, France, United Arab Emirates, 2011)
It’s called Chaabi music, which means popular music (as opposed to classical), and halfway through the last century in Algeria it blew up, played passionately among Arabic and Jewish students till war brought it underground and nearly dead. A lot of music documentaries use the “reunion” theme as the main plot-line of resurrecting the story of a lost music, but the reunion of the men who played this work at the end of this one is truly worth checking the movie out for. The love of young filmmaker Safinez Bousbia for these cool old cats making poetic, romantic, praise and pleasure songs is squeezed into every frame featuring their wise faces, grinning slightly behind sunglasses in a hang out called the Casba. Recommended. Screenings May 25, 1:30 p.m. at Pacific Place; May 27, at 6:30 p.m. at Pacific Place; and May 30, 6:00 p.m. in Everett.
Paul Williams Still Alive (Features Paul Williams, Karen Carpenter, Barbara Streisand, Kermit the Frog, etc. USA 2011)
Stephen Kessler has done some rom-coms, indie flicks, and a lot of commercials, and both his smooth skills as a director merge with his private passion for the smooth, sad music of the cherubic, troubled singer-songwriter Paul Williams. Who he thought was dead, as does everyone else I mention this film to. But no, the once very addicted and publicly ubiquitous Williams is alive and still grinding away, and has been long-time sober, and that is a focal point to this tale of fandom, fate, and fussed over filmmaking. Lots of neat little twists and surprises throughout its narrative, and featuring some music you may have overheard on Top 40 and forgotten was pretty damned swell. Screenings May 25, 6:30 p.m. at the Egyptian; May 26 at 1:00 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown.
Emerald City Visions (A hiphop reinterpretation of The Wiz) (original film USA 1978)
Larry Mizell, Jr. (Don’t Talk To The Cops, Mash Hall, KEXP, The Stranger) puts on a big old show based on love for the Michael Jackson/Sidney Lumet reinvention of the Wizard of Oz. It’s hush hush on which rising Northwest hiphop artists are playing the Triple Door’s hosting of this mind-blowing happening, but the production will probably be phenomenal, a supreme combination of homage and outrageous new expression. Two shows on June 1 at the Triple Door, 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best (USA 2011)
A later addition to the Face The Music series this year, this movie is about an aging failed indie rocker who tries to find redemption on the road. Hopefully it juggles the whimsy with the weariness in all the right ways. Director and lead actor Ryan O’Nan was in Eat Pray Love. Screenings June 1st at 9:30 p.m. at Harvard Exit; June 2 at Pacific Place.
The Savoy King: Chick Webb and The Music That Changed America (Features Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Cosby, John Legend, Janet Jackson, USA 2012)
Swing era legend Chick Webb gets a well-deserved biopic. He blended Black and white performers at a time when you didn’t do that sort of thing, blasting “Battle of the Bands,” and giving Basie, Ellington, and Goodman a run for their money. Hunch-backed and ill-fated, Webb is a superb American bellwether, fit for deep study and appreciation in evolving the form of popular music. Screenings June 9 at 6:00 p.m. at the Harvard Exit; June 10 at 3:00 p.m. at the Harvard Exit.
Silence: All Roads Lead To Music (Italy/Iraq/United Arab Emirates, 2011)
A sublime rumination on improvised collaboration, this Haider Rashed-directed documentary will take you intimately into the language that musicians construct between each other with sound, even when they can’t verbalize much to each other in their own Sicilian, Arabic, and Aboriginal tongues. Screenings June 3 at 5:00 p.m. and Monday June 4 at 3:30 p.m., both at SIFF Cinema Uptown; June 6 at 6:00 p.m. in Kirkland.
Welcome To Doe Bay (Features the Maldives, Pickwick, Fly Moon Royalty, Sera Cahoone, and the Head and the Heart, USA 2012)
Lar Mizell Jr. pops up here too, along with people you’ve probably seen playing around town live, including Champagne Champagne, and a whole lot of acoustic guitars and autumnal hymns. Every year at Orcas Island residents of Doe Bay host a festival that induces bliss and shared sweet vibes among Pacific NW artists and fans, and filmmakers Dan Thornton and Nesib Shamah have captured one of the big weekends for history’s sake. Screenings: June 3 at 9:15 p.m. at the Egyptian; June 5 at 9:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown.
Coal Miner’s Daughter (Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Levon Helm, USA 1980)
Sissy Spacek won the Oscar for this, a beloved biopic of the richly talented Loretta Lynn directed by Michael Apted. This will be a free outdoor screening at the Mural Amphitheatre on June 8, at 9:00 p.m.