Seattle International Film Festival 2014: Kick It with Jimi and Much More

Chris Estey

It’s our happening and it freaks us out! The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival is upon us, and this year is probably the best one for fans of its phenomenal Face The Music series. Seriously, if you’ve found SIFF a little light on the music movies before, this year will change your head around.

In the official SIFF 2014 guide, here’s a full two pages of rock docs, jazz histories, fictional band narratives, sound field studies, and musical human interest stories to check out at a variety of local theaters from May 15 to June 8.

One great thing too is that it all kicks off with a World Premiere during the Opening Night Gala with an artful biography of one of our region’s rock and roll heroes, the progressive and hugely influential Jimi Hendrix.Jimi: All Is By My Side features Jimi Hendrix in the early part of his career, and the casting of Andre Benjamin from Outkast in the lead role was a tremendous choice. His visual resemblance and ultra-cool persona carries the film through music business blues and ambivalent relationship drama. Director and script-writer John Ridley, who wrote the Award-winning 12 Years A Slave, brings keen insight into racial conflicts and subtle dynamics between blacks and whites and men and women in Jimi. It’s not all pleasant, but you hang on every scene as the Seattle area-born musician struggles to put together his band, keep from getting beaten up, and deals with the pain of his abused past. There's a lot of nuance and tension and the scene where The Experience play a live cover of "Sgt. Pepper's" is dizzying and delightful.

The Gala this year features Ridley and actor Hayley Atwell from Jimi; Seattle filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Megan Griffiths are expected to attend as well. Griffiths has a movie in the SIFF 2014 titled Lucky Them which should bring smiles to local music fans, as it has glorious footage of our city and bucolic regions just outside it, as it focuses on a missing rock star and universal truths about character and artistic desire. (Shelton has a cameo, as do a lot of local scene-makers.) Also at the Gala: Seattle producer Mel Eslyn, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Festival representatives Carl Spence (SIFF Artistic Director) and Mary Bacarella (SIFF Managing Director), a swarm of film-loving supporters.

The screening for Jimi: All Is By My Side will be at Seattle Center's Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, with a Q&A moderated by Carl Spence immediately followed by the Opening Night Gala reception at Seattle Center's Exhibition Hall.

For those not attending the opening night Gala, what else do KEXP fans have to look forward to for the next three or so weeks? Well, I recommend checking these new Face The Music films out for sure:

20,000 Days On Earth: A somewhat meta-fictional narrative about the everyday struggles and scenes of the larger than life Nick Cave, this semi-documentary observes what makes the brilliant salty bastard tick, and will no doubt tap into his relationship with his literature-teaching father, his raging romantic strife, and his workaholic artistic obsessions. I confess this is the movie I’m eager to see the most at SIFF 2014, because I just can’t get enough of Old Saint Nick. It’s not a concert film, but if shots of Cave sitting in his man-cave (ha) pecking away on an old typewriter and raving like a prophet of doom makes you smile like it does me, you won’t miss this.

Friday, 5/16, 10:00 PM, Lincoln SquareWednesday, 5/21, 9:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown

Beautiful Noise: This is a documentary about the inspirational, crunchy, amorphous, passionate yet mysterious music of groups like the Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. What a great idea! Amazing no one has done this before and this should be awesome to watch and bliss out to. The hugely influential 80’s and 90’s guitar bands who used holy murmurs and invented languages with their mouths and instruments and amps get a long-deserved narrative treatment, and it seems the filmmakers really threw themselves into this one. Eight years devoted to conducting over 50 interviews with artists and scene-makers, a mindful unpacking of where noise and popular music meet in the underground and going above. I love it when a music movie handles a great mystery, and these bands have been silent beneath the buzz and din for far too long. I bet the screenings will be a party.

Saturday, 5/31, 9:15 PM, SIFF Cinema UptownSunday, 6/1, 9:15 PM, Pacific Place

Electro Chaabi: Electro chaabi, or mahraganat, as many of its makers call it, are the new sounds coming out of young Egypt. Working class-born Chaabi was music made ‘of the people’ in the 70s, blending gritty everyday observations with the romantic. Electro chaabi uses pirated music production software, inspired by YouTube tutorial videos, adding MCs and a whole lot of other new effects to make the original genre come alive. This documentary should be exciting, edifying, and inspiring.

Saturday, 5/24, 5:00 PM, SIFF Cinema UptownSunday, 5/25, 2:00 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown

Big In Japan: Seattle’s own Tennis Pro do an updated Monkees’ ‘Head,’ blending a made up story overseas with the vibrant, creative, and sublime talents of real life band members Sean Lowry, David Drury, and the PNW’s own Van Dyke Parks-Phil Spector hybrid, Philip Peterson. There’s a lot of subversive humor and sweet ass dance music going on, and it should be a treat to see what goes on for our local boys in Tokyo.

Thursday, 6/5, 7:00 PM, EgyptianSaturday, 6/7, 12:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown

Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble: Who would have thought there would be enough footage of Tacoma’s own late 80s-spawned gritty garage stompers to make up a full-length history? Their shows seemed to blindside you, and the Cascadian sound and fury of Strictly Sacred should be a can’t-miss music movie for any Seattle music fan. DIY! Bang your head on the punk rock!

Monday, 5/26, 5:00 PM, SIFF Cinema UptownTuesday, 5/27, 8:30 PM, Renton IKEA PAC

Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz: Ladies who played out with Artie Shaw and Quincy Jones are featured, interviewed, and discussed in a necessary film I am looking forward to almost as much as the Nick Cave one. My own grandmother was a trumpet player in an all women’s jazz band in downtown Seattle in the 20s, and there should be plenty of revelations uncovered and gorgeous music to hear in this decades-spanning doc. Narrated by the genius Patrice Rushen, these instrumentalists get their due.

Sunday, 6/1, 5:30 PM, SIFF Cinema UptownSunday, 6/2, 4:00 PM, Harvard Exit

Razing The Bar: Yes, it’s a bloody stinking damned shame the Funhouse was torn down to make condos. Yet first-time filmmaker Ryan Worsley and her friends have delivered an outstanding story of its excited punk rock reign, featuring loving and hilarious interviews with owner Brian Foss (KEXP’s Sonic Reducer), The Bad Things, the awesome ladies of the Rat City Roller Girls, Wimps, Mea Culpa, Glenn or Glennda?, and so many other incredible talents. The big story though is the community that loved, lived, and partied just across the street from Seattle Center for so many years. If you’re in the Seattle music scene, you have to see this, to glory in some of our finest hours, and to say hello to a lot of your best friends. Also, as a doc it rocks from start to finish.

Tuesday, 5/20, 9:00 PM, SIFF Cinema UptownTuesday, 5/27, 9:00 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown

There are many, MANY more movies in the Face The Music series, and films about music outside this category during the festival, so keep your eyes on the KEXP Blog for previews, reviews, and more coming up!

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