For years, Portland documentarian and Talk Station frontman Jon Meyer has been filming musicians whose work he admires. It started as a way to improve his craft with hopes of someday turning the footage into a documentary.
“Eventually I had enough where I was like, ‘Man, if I went and followed up on all these people that’d be really interesting, to see where they came from and where they are now,’” Meyer tells WW. That ambition birthed his black-and-white documentary project Kontrast.
Meyer wanted to provide an in-depth look at emerging artists in the hope that sharing their stories would help elevate their careers. Take Cassandra Lewis, whose style has been described as “cosmic Americana” and “psychedelic soul.” The first time Meyer heard her sing, he thought, “Oh, my God. I’ve never been in the presence of such undiscovered talent like this, you know? Like, nobody knows who this person is? What?”
As with most of Meyer’s projects, one thing led to another. He captured hours of footage of Lewis before, during and after shows. And eventually, he decided to send a tape to his friend Marco Collins, the renowned DJ at Seattle’s KEXP.
“I never send him anything, not even on my own work,” Meyer says. “I was waiting for it to be something so good that he would trust me to only send him the good stuff.” Sure enough, Collins loved the tape. He came down to Portland to see Lewis play, and as soon as he got back to Seattle, he started playing her on KEXP.
Soon, Collins introduced Lewis to a media group, which led to her signing a record deal. “And I know all of that because I was there to film the whole thing,” Meyer says. From her early shows to meeting Collins to getting signed, Meyer captured it all.
Kontrast has also featured Talilo Marfil, the West Bisayan, Filipino American hip-hop artist Meyer first met at a barbecue about 10 years ago. “He and some dudes were rapping in a circle,” Meyer recalls. “I’m normally more of a singer-songwriter person, but I can beatbox. So our first communication was about 15 minutes of beatboxing and rapping.”
Marfil’s energy and story spoke to Meyer. “I learned that he used to be in prison, that he was trying to get youth off the streets, that his sister had cancer and Down syndrome and, at the time, he was doing a fundraiser for that,” he says.
Meyer called Marfil and asked if he could just start filming and see what they came up with. The resulting multipart episode of Kontrast (which features fellow hip-hop artist Wassla) allowed viewers to learn about Marfil’s backstory and watch him teaching hip-hop history to kids from elementary through high school.
“We’re giving them hope and helping them make better decisions,” says Marfil in the first part of his Kontrast documentary. “It’s hard for me to see how much help I could be because of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, but the only way I know how to do it is by gathering a community with music. And I’ve been pretty effective with that.”
Marfil just released “Big Flip,” which features Swiggle Mandela, Taryn and JayR Tha Barber (and quickly went viral). As for Meyer, his ultimate goal is to get enough funding to be able to put out a new documentary every month, building on the relationships with artists that he forges over the course of several years.
“Every episode, even though they’re only 15 minutes long, covers at least three years,” he says. “I don’t want to put out any episode that’s filmed over the course of six months. The joy of watching these episodes is watching change.”
SEE IT: The third installment of Kontrast’s “Talilo/Wassla” series plays with artists’ performances and a Q&A with Jon Meyer and Wassla at Kelly’s Olympian, 426 SW Washington St., 503-228-3669, kellysolympian.com. 8 pm Sunday, Nov. 13. $7-$10. More episodes available at kontrastdocs.com.