Seattle International Film Festival 2015: Face The Music

SIFF, KEXP Suggests
Chris Estey

Each year, we're excited to see what musical subjects and evocative themes the Seattle International Film Festival explores in their Face The Music series. This year, the films delve into myths of popular music genius, reach across margins of the economic side of music affairs, expand the histories of dark social scenes, and tantalize viewers with deep tastes of exotic genres and performers.

In a strange way, this year's series is reflective of the music business itself, as programmer Stan Shields has shaped the entries for the 2015 Face The Music “mood” to encompass diversity and change, expansive influence and intimate struggles. While some of the regular scenes and genres are still represented (live events, biopics, concert films), this may be the least overtly “rocking” FTM yet. Thus, there will be less familiar tropes of bands peaking and breaking up and then reuniting.

Whether it reflects the age of the people picking the movies, the audience for whom the programming is intended, or both, is up for debate, but there are no edgy docs like A Band Called Death this year (about the African-American pre-punk demigods who reformed), or contemporary gender outlaw transgressions like Peaches’ 2014 concert film, or lean and brilliant histories of iconoclasts like Le Tigre and Kathleen Hannah. Without knowing what was available for curators to select from, viewers might think that the rock and punk and other new music coverage was set aside in favor of more experimental, multi-cultural, and historically expansive fare. That fare, though, should be fascinating enough, as it touches more on milieu and movement than on genre and ego, and isn’t so North American-centric. Here’s a run down of highlights from what to expect in May and June at SIFF 2015:

54: The Director’s Cut

May 29 | 9:00PM | Neptune Theatre

It’s going to be spleen-trembling to see this epic “tales of the disco apocalypse” get another go at the theaters, with its incredible late 90s cast (Ryan Phillippe, Mike Myers, Salma Hayek, Breckin Meyer, Neve Campbell, Mark Ruffalo) chronicling the rise and fall of Studio 54 at the height and decline of 70s decadence. For the occasion, the Neptune Theater is throwing a Studio 54 facsimile on Friday, May 29 (same day as the Egyptian showing the film, but starts two hours later at 9:00PM). Disco lessons and themed dancing based on popular, splashy cult films, flash mob performances ... good Lord, get down!


May 23 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema UptownMay 25 | 1:00PM | Neptune Theatre

The first time documentary of veteran director Alexander Dunn (London, UK) 808 is a documentary about the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Music tech nerds are gonna drool and dream looking at these original rhythm makers bounce, boom, and thump on the big screen. The 808 is that rare music-making machine that “has become quite possibly the most influential musical instrument of the last 35 years.” Starting with Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” the documentary explores how the 808 (and all those samples based on it over the past few decades) move from street level underground spaces and rattling all over the pop charts in an explosion of creativity and sonic evolution. Raw recording footage, rare films, animation, and a steady beat of interviews with those in the original 808 cult such as Beastie Boys and Talking Heads, and on to Pharrell Williams and Diplo. Yes, probably one of the most exciting SIFF movies this year will be about a drum machine.

All Things Must Pass

May 30 | 7:00PM | Harvard ExitMay 31 | 3:00PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown

This is one of those documentaries that will lure record store fiends like me in the most, but will probably depress me beyond endurance. They made a cool billion before the Bush years, and then the tower fell. Tower Records was once a place I could drop almost $100 a week on new releases, and pick up fanzines and glossies from all over the country - and even place my own self-published creations in there, and get paid for them. Hitting its peak at the end of the last century, it took a quick decline that matches the excess and disasters of the music industry itself. I won’t be able to stay away from this though, from the footage of in-store signings, of lines of fans awaiting tickets to legendary shows, of happy staff setting up promotional materials and telling stories of when everyone would run into each other at any time of the day. Another first time directorial release (by Colin Hanks) that will be irresistible for music fans.

Beats Of The Antonov

May 21 | 6:30PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown FestivalMay 22 | 4:00PM | AMC Pacific Place

Between the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, Hajooj Kuka has shot Beats of the Antonov, which celebrates the tenacious music culture of the South SudanBeats of the Antonov is about creativity in the midst of endless civil war, an exploration of life in refugee camps by a war reporter and a documentary filmmaker. Kuka is an active member of GIRIFNA, a non-violent resistance movement in Sudan.

Breathe Umphefumlo

May 16 | 5:30PM | SIFF Cinema UptownMay 18 | 4:30PM | SIFF EgyptianMay 19 | 6:00PM | Lincoln Square Cinemas

La Bohème but told through the tuberculosis epidemic in South Africa, Breathe Umphefumlo uses its extraordinary operatic cast, but also a unique instrumentation of steel drums, voiced percussion, and vocal harmonies. This combination amplifies the drama and gives the film a ferocity and urgency. Following U-Carmen, Breathe Umphefumlo extends the experimenting of the beauty of European operatic traditions into the universal struggle of African horizons.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll

May 23 | 2:15PM | Renton IKEA Performing Arts FestivalJune 2 | 3:15PM | SIFF Cinema UptownJune 3 | 3:00PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown

A don’t-miss underground/world-rock selection from John Pirozzi (the behind-the-scenes help for Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man and the Patti Smith: Dream of Life docs from a few years ago). Especially for fans of dazzling Cambodian-American psyche-pop band Dengue Fever (and certain indigenous releases on specific reissue labels) who have wondered where all that groovy grit and glamor in the sound come from. It started in the worldwide counterculture of the 1960s, and was a unique blend of usually female vocals and surf guitar, groovy organ, pumping bass, and swinging drums. It roiled majestically and hedonistically and communally, but that beautiful melee was silenced by the post-Vietnam takeover by the Khmer Rouge. A whole lot of detective work is done finding musicians and lost vinyl, and expect some anguished tears as the joy of that sound is rediscovered and inspires whole new generations of immigrant expression. A long-overdue tribute to one of popular music’s freshest, sassiest scenes taken by tragedy.


June 4 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema UptownJune 5 | 4:00PM | SIFF Egyptian

Oh, this is gonna make a lot of electronic dance music fans happy. Not a doc, but a story set in rave’s apex, featuring a DJ figuring out love, loss, connection, and yes, ecstasy. This POV fictional narrative is a way to let a new listener in to the sounds of the spinners, and its you’re-there soundtrack would be an awesome thing to play while devouring Michaelangelo Matos’ recent necessary history The Underground Is Massive. Great to see the no-doubt romantic and transcendent tales spun from this time of imaginative personal and rhythmic social revolutions, directed by festival favorite Mia Hansen-Love (Father of My Children, SIFF 2010).


May 26 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema Egyptian

SIFF is officially celebrating Kevin Bacon this year, and what more appropriate way than to haul out this unfortunately timeless tale about body movement versus authoritarian bullying. I’d love to make as if this battle was a corny one, but there’s still a lot of squares trying to stop the rock these days politically, and a whole lot of sweet sensual tension in this tale. Perfect retro date movie during SIFF for generational juxtapositions, and/or lots to talk about afterwards (depending how things swing).

The Glamour & The Squalor

June 3 | 7:00PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown (with after-party at Neumos 8:30PM, 21+ only)June 5 | 4:15PM | Harvard Exit

Seattle DJ, Marco Collins! You ought to know who he is, KEXP fans! His work at the seminal years of 107.7 The End, his relentless promotions of the right rocking sounds, the best bands, the next big things, the stuff you should have loved. You should know what he did for local music, and how his skills as a Prometheus breathing in hard-rock fire to warm us with over the airwaves. This is among two of the most locally-centered selection in the SIFF FTM line-up this time, and even if the individualized eventual fall from grace is going to tap into tears in soul-shaking ways, all the people have to know sometimes what it takes to be a bellwether in promoting world-changing sounds. I’m sure the details of hustle and buzz, the glorious hedonistic tales, and the cruel twists of fate will be worth every penny for taking in what others would all grow to pretend they know. Don’t miss it. “Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), and numerous others” are filmed, but I can’t wait to spend 82 minutes hanging on Marco’s every salty word.

It’s So Easy And Other Lies

May 28 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema EgyptianJune 6 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema Egyptian

For those of us who never tire of hearing Appetite for Destruction played ironically or not in any bar or venue we tipple out in, Guns ‘n; Roses’ Duff McKagan is a god. And to those of us who go back with him to his Seattle punk days, all the more reason to check out this biopic based on his bestselling memoir. He replaced heroin and red wine with books and martial arts, and is an inspiration to all of us musically and personally. See the world through his eyes here, going from underground to international domination (and deviation) - and eventual family happiness and serenity. This ought to be a blast, even if it might dip in a little too darkly mid-way through. We’ll rise back up with him though like a Phoenix, because Duff never stops.

Itsi Bitsi

May 21 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema UptownMay 27 | 8:30PM | Lincoln Square CinemasMay 31 | 9:30PM | AMC Pacific Place 11

A telling of the true story of Danish psychedelic band Steppeulven begins in 1962 ties together two lovers’ mutual obsessions in music and literature, travel and absolute ontological exploration in every conceivable way. Over the next decade, the damage of drugs in a partner isn’t ignored, but the psych-rock band started to keep the spirit of rebellion alive is steeped in a haunted skronk-blues churns it all into art. Probably a dark horse for those of us into the European epics of transgression and the avant-garde, it’s crafted by Ole Christian Madsen from Roskilde, Denmark, “who received his degree from the National Film School of Demark. He has directed several features, including the award-winning Flame & Citron in 2008 about fighters in a WWII resistance group.”

Love & Mercy

May 15 | 6:30PM | SIFF Cinema EgyptianMay 16 | 12:30PM | Pacific Place

A major motion picture about awesome BRIAN WILSON! This is the FTM big one. Love & Mercy is the second feature from River Road Entertainment president Bill Pohlad, who has produced many notable films, including best picture winners Brokeback Mountain and 12 Years A Slave. Creative Bob Dylan-extrapolative co-writer of I’m Not There, Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner tell the story of the Brian of the 1960s played by Paul Dano, culminating in the overflow-of-light Pet Sounds; the second half, with John Cusack as Brian (!!) finds his ego, psyche, and muse strung between manipulative therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti, Sideways) and Melinda (Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect). Like the BW story itself, this should be a glorious, transcendent mess. Hopefully the music has been cleared for licensing, and we’ll get to hear all that hassled honey spill out over the jumble of myth and madness.


May 31 | 6:00PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown FestivalJune 1 | 4:30PM | Harvard Exit

A behind the scenes documentary of a lead up to a modern-day presentation of Verdi’s Aida. Richly honoring Giuseppe Verdi’s bicentennial birthday and featuring the arena’s breathtaking architecture, it also unveils a dynamic tension built into the production, featuring the nerve-wracking energy and hopes and dreams that go into putting such a spectacle on. A Wagnerian collection of creative energies contributing sight, sound, movement, spectacle, the entire thing is built to draw the audience into the overwhelming act of communal creation. Director Andrea Prandstraller was born in Padua, Italy, and has worked as an Assistant Director on several Italian and international productions. Collaborator Italian filmmaker and producer Niccolò Bruna attended the EICTV school in Cuba in 1998, and has spent his time focusing on film projects with a social and human rights angle.

Paco du Lucia: A Journey

May 25 | 5:00PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown TheaterMay 26 | 5:30PM | SIFF Cinema Uptown TheaterMay 27 | 6:00PM | Lincoln Square

Using both modern-day and archival footage, legendary flamenco guitarist Paco du Lucia’s son and director Curro Sanchez Varela narrates his father’s upbringing as a poor child from Andalucia who started playing guitar at seven and ended up on the Ed Sullivan Show as a teenager. The film reveals a playful sense of humor to the great troubadour, and features interviews with Carlos Santana, Ruben Blades, Alejandro Sanz, John McLaughlin, and Estrella Morente. Director Sanchez is scheduled to be in attendance.

The Passion of Augustine

May 23 | 7:00PM | Harvard ExitMay 25 | 11:00AM | Harvard Exit

It’s a Canadian funny nun music story! A mash up of Vatican ll changes with the revolutionary spirit of the 60s, the cultural informing and juxtapositions of this should be fascinating, as we watch (and hear) Mother Augustine lead her young rebels through “the Quiet Revolution.”


May 20 | 6:30PM | SIFF Cinema UptownMay 21 | 4:30PM | Harvard ExitMay 24 | 3:30PM | Lincoln Square

Following up the intensity of a film like Whiplash, but in real life, “The Cliburn is one of the world’s most prestigious and grueling piano competitions” held in Fort Worth. The Cliburn hosts thirty of the world’s finest pianists to compete for millions, and potentially very successful careers as performers. The pressure to perform for millions of people though is where the real drama lies. “Director Christopher Wilkinson is scheduled to be in attendance.”

Also, there are several live events this year, including The Alloy Orchestra performing a score to Son of the Sheik, a romantic 1926 adventure film starring Rudolph Valentino, on May 19 at 7:00PM at SIFF Cinema Uptown.

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