The sixth annual Milwaukee Film Festival is just over a month away (cue another round of heart attacks at Milwaukee Film), which means the fest is in full announcement mode. Programs spotlighting Mexican cinema, food-related films, and children’s entertainment have already been revealed, with plenty more on the way. Of special note to Milwaukee Record readers—and/or anyone with a pulse—is MFF’s always-awesome music documentary series, Sound Vision, and its live music series at The Hotel Foster, Soundtrack, both of which were announced today. For fans of Nick Cave, dancing in the aisles of the Oriental Theater, and seeing some of Milwaukee best bands do their thing over the course of two weeks, it’s a glorious day.
First up is Sound Vision, highlighted by a screening of the documentary/fiction hybrid 20,000 Days On Earth, which captures a day in the life of the forever brooding Nick Cave. “The timing on this is fantastic as Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds recently performed here and left us all in awe,” says Milwaukee Film Marketing Director Blyth Meier in a press release. “What makes it even more special to me on a personal level is that the first time I watched 20,000 Days was at Sundance, sitting across from Cave himself. It was surreal.”
One of the many highlights of the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival was Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which turned the Oriental Theatre into an impromptu dance party. The film returns this year. “Last year’s screening of Stop Making Sense became a gigantic dance party,” Meier says, “how could we not show it again this year for its 30th anniversary?”
For the Soundtrack series, The Hotel Foster has rounded up some of Milwaukee’s best live acts—including Space Raft, Whips, GGOOLLDD, Bliss & Alice, and more—and given them a two-week reign of its stage during the course of the fest. The complete lineups for both programs are below, with film descriptions courtesy of Milwaukee Film. The 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival runs September 25 through October 9, and will be awesome.
My Prairie Home (Canada / 2013 / Director: Chelsea McMullan)
Simultaneously a look into the life of transgender singer-songwriter Rae Spoon (who uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they”) as well as a celebration of the categorization-defying music they create (fusing folk, country, indie rock, and electronica), My Prairie Home is a truly original portrait of a true original. We follow Rae as they travel across Canada on tour, revealing the evangelical upbringing and forbidden first love that marked their early life intermingled with playfully surreal music videos set at prom or among the dinosaurs in a natural history museum. This documentary is as unique and untraditional as the performer it aims to capture.
Finding Fela (USA / 2014 / Director: Alex Gibney)
Fela Kuti: musical pioneer, postcolonial activist, polyrhythmic innovator. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney (Audience award-winner Mea Maxima Culpa, MFF 2012) sifts through the contradictions and presents a complex portrait of a man whose artistic legacy is nearly matched by his political activism. Alongside a backstage portrait of “Fela!,” an energetic Broadway show with Bill T. Jones devoted to exploring the life of this Afrobeat pioneer, we discover a man who realized the revolutionary potential that music offered through mesmerizing performance footage and revealing archival interviews. We see Fela warts and all, a man whose work in all aspects of life endures.
20,000 Days On Earth (United Kingdom / 2014 / Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard)
Poet/musician/general enigma Nick Cave aims to lay his creative process bare with this stick of cinematic dynamite blowing up any and all rockumentary conventions. 20,000 Days on Earth takes the form of a loosely staged single day in the life of this cult musician. This hallucinatory blend of documentary and fiction features a therapy session and sudden reappearances of friends from his past (Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue) alongside a primordial, blistering live performance. For neophytes and diehards alike, this exploration of Cave’s life and music is every bit up to the task of providing a portrait as dynamic and engaging as its subject matter.
This May Be The Last Time (USA / 2014 / Director: Sterlin Harjo)
A probing examination of a personal history as well as an expansive portrait of cultural expression, This May Be the Last Time lifts the veil on the power of song and storytelling among an American-Indian tribe through the prism of a mysterious disappearance that took place some 60 years prior. Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo re-examines his grandfather’s disappearance while focusing on the tribal hymns sung by the search parties that looked for him, beautiful music filled with hope and forgiveness born out of past tumult. Harjo traces these ancient songs back through time, illuminating a surprising genealogy of cultural influence whose borders expand far beyond that of his southeastern tribe.
The Ballad Of Shovels And Rope (USA / 2014 / Director: Jace Freeman)
This foot-stomping, heartwarming journey follows Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, the husband-and-wife folk duo known as Shovels and Rope, as they pack their belongings (along with their beloved dog Townes Van Zandt) into their van and begin a relentless tour in support of their dreams. The Ballad Of Shovels And Rope tracks the creation of their critically acclaimed album “O’ Be Joyful,” following this loving couple’s journey from waitress and studio artist to award-winning musical artists, stopping at all of the dive bars and nightclubs along the way and showing the hard work, creativity, and ingenuity that will make you fall in love with this amazing duo.
Revenge Of The Mekons (USA / 2013 / Director: Joe Angio)
Once described by Lester Bangs as “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock ’n’ roll,” genre-bending British outfit The Mekons are now four decades into an ever-evolving career that has netted them endless critical acclaim despite their pursuit of commercial success—success that has constantly eluded them, though this rollicking documentary portrait aims to correct that cultural wrong. With the aid of effusive supporters (Jonathan Franzen, Fred Armisen, Luc Sante), we examine this group as they traverse from their punk rock origins in Thatcher-era England to their current middle age in the vanguard of what is now known as alt-country without ever losing sight of their status as political provocateurs.
Take Me To The River (USA / 2014 / Director: Martin Shore)
An ode to an unprecedented era of creativity, Take Me To The River is a soul-stirring examination of the influence that Memphis and Stax Records held over the music world, a must-see for fans of Muscle Shoals and the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom. In this film, produced by Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison, we’re granted access to the creative process behind a new album (featuring artists such as Snoop Dogg and Mavis Staples) looking to continue the proud intergenerational and interracial influence of the Memphis music scene, an exuberant celebration of the grooves that stand in defiance of segregation and show the power of creative collaboration toward realizing this utopian ideal.
Stop Making Sense (USA / 1984 / Director: Jonathan Demme)
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Jonathan Demme’s essential concert film returns to the festival after a run last year that had our audience literally dancing in the aisles. Filmed over the course of two performances, this epic documentary of The Talking Heads, their live-wire frontman David Byrne, and Milwaukee’s own Jerry Harrison is as exuberant a portrait of the live concert experience as we’re ever likely to have on the big screen. Gaining momentum as though the performance is rocketing downhill, this film will be once again the can’t-miss experience of the festival.