Considering the heavy preference for talking-head interviews intercut with concert footage, it's easy to dismiss music documentaries as a staid genre. But Reel Music Festival still manages to find new stones to turn over. The 35th iteration of the festival kicks off this Friday with a lineup that includes movies that challenge not just how we see music, but how we see film. Here's what we're most excited to watch.
Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave. 7 pm Sunday, Jan. 14.
Alison Chernick's 2017 documentary attempts to get behind Itzhak Perlman, who's widely regarded as the best violinist in the world. But the film is less concerned with the annotated history of Perlman's life (he survived polio at an early age and later made a now-famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show) and more with impressions of his legacy. As an in-depth documentary, the film will likely leave audiences wanting more. As a piece of filmmaking, it's a fascinating experiment.
Northwest Music Video Showcase
Skype Live Studio, 1211 SW 5th Ave. 7 pm Thursday, Jan. 18.
Each year, Reel Music provides a platform for one of the most vibrant parts of Portland's filmmaking scene—music videos. The short format makes them more financially accessible for independent filmmakers, and more conducive to experimentation (see Nesto's riotous, single-shot video to the Memories' "Royal United Song Service Sampler.").
Trouble No More
Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 Sw Park Ave. 8:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 21.
It's hard to find anything new to say about Bob Dylan. But director Jennifer LeBeau's new documentary depicts one of Dylan's most neglected phases—his gospel music era in the 1980s. Trouble No More follows Dylan's "born again" period that saw him record his most divisive records: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981). LeBeau assembled previously lost concert footage and intersperses it with sermons performed by Michael Shannon.
Charles Mingus: Tale of the Underdog
Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 Sw Park Ave. 6:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 21.
Art-jazz messiah Charles Mingus was at the forefront of his genre. But, like most uncompromising geniuses, he was also notoriously volatile and temperamental. Don McGlynn's 1997 film relies on more than nine years of research and recovered footage, including performance clips and radio and TV broadcasts from the height of Mingus' career. Twenty years later, it's still one of the most personal documentaries ever made.
The Passion of Joan of Ark and Voices of Light
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway. 7:30 pm Friday, Jan. 26.
The Passion of Joan of Ark is one of the silent film era's great masterpieces—director Carl Theodor Dreyer basically invented the modern close-up. The NW Film Center screening will be accompanied by a live performance of "Voices of Light," a sweeping oratorio written for the film. Three Portland State University ensembles will join Camerata PYP and three other vocal choirs for the performance.
A Life in Waves
Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave. 7 pm Tuesday, Jan. 30.
Even if you've never heard Suzanne Ciani's name, you definitely know her work. The electronic maestro has spent her career wielding synthesizers like tiny orchestras to create some of the most iconic sound effects in pop culture. The Atari logo? That was Ciani. How about the sound of a Coca-a-Cola bottlecap? Yep, also Ciani. Life in Waves tracks Ciani's career from her training in classical music to her innovations in New Wave.
SEE IT: Reel Music Festival runs from Jan. 12-30. $9-$50 per screening. See nwfilm.org for full schedule.