The Melbourne International Film Festival starts on Friday July 26 and runs until August 11. There are plenty of films to tempt music fans. You can book tickets at miff.com.au but first you might like to look at a run down of the music related feature and the documentaries.
Good Vibrations was a record store, a label and the life of Terri Hooley – Ireland’s Godfather of Punk. And as war rocked Belfast in the 70s, extinguishing the free love promise of the 60s, Hooley had an epiphany: the best conduit for rage was music.
Richard Dormer is a revelation as the carefree rascal Hooley, who planted his base right in the firing line. After an unexpected spiritual conversion to punk, he signs the Undertones, and provides a lifeline to Belfast’s shell-shocked youth.
In the tradition of 24 Hour Party People and Velvet Goldmine, directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn capture the lightning-in-a-bottle birth of a music scene, and its champion, with bucketloads of cheek and affection.
Monday July 29 – 9.00pm / Saturday August 10 – 4.00pm
A BAND CALLED DEATH (USA)
In the early 70s, three African-American brothers from Detroit formed a band that, despite its unforgettable name, was forgotten by music history. David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney’s band, Death, predated the American punk scene by just a few years, yet embodied that movement’s ethos of DIY, personal freedom and noisy interpretation.
The brothers distilled and fused Detroit’s famed soul music, social conscience and uncompromising anti-establishment stance. Death’s raw energy brought major labels courting but the band slid into obscurity after a handful of recordings and the untimely passing of the charismatic and multitalented David.
After 30 years in the musical wilderness, Death was rediscovered by a new generation of music archaeologists. This timely, engaging documentary, which won the 24 Beats Per Second music doco audience award at SXSW, details the band’s legacy and the surviving family’s journey back to the stage.
96 Minutes D Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett
Tuesday July 30 9.00pm / Thursday August 1 9.00pm
Popular rockers Thirty Seconds To Mars, led by Jared Leto (Fight Club, Requiem For a Dream), were platinum-sellers in 2008, but hadn’t seen a cent of royalties, so they tried to exit their contract. Their label sued them for $30 million. But what began as an object lesson from EMI resulted in a David-and-Goliath struggle between a floundering industry and its indentured servants.
While the band record their breakthrough third album, This is War, the mysterious Bartholomew Cubbins (a dead ringer for Leto) explodes the myth of the millionaire rock star, cutting between the lawyer’s office and the studio floor. Fellow music-makers including Linkin Park, OK Go and System Of A Down, and former EMI execs all spill the beans, providing a detailed, often Spinal Tap-esque insight into the harsh realities of modern music making.
Ultimately, Artifact speaks to all music lovers and is a funny, ridiculous reminder that while music always changes, business will always be business.
People’s Choice Documentary Award winner at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Jared Leto and Thirty Seconds to Mars are guests of the festival, and will be in attendance at the screening on 9 August.
103 Minutes / Director: Bartholomew Cubbins
Friday August 9 – 9:00pm / Sunday August 11 – 1:30pm
BAYOU MAHARAJAH: THE TRAGIC GENIUS OF JAMES BOOKER (USA)
“The best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” – Dr John
A run-in with a jukebox in New Orleans was all director Lily Keber needed to know that James Booker was special. But who was he? Here she unveils an all-but-forgotten mad genius of jazz and blues piano, adored by artists from Harry Connick Jr to Bon Iver.
This ‘60s outcast, marginalised by his sexuality, disability and race, was plagued by paranoid conspiracy theories and known for his outrageous behaviour, such as appearing on stage in a nappy and demanding drugs to play. But he was also an unparalleled musical genius, revered from New Orleans to Europe for his breathtaking ability to blend a Rachmaninoff tune with Sinatra, gospel with gutbucket. He performed with Aretha Franklin, Jerry Garcia and Ringo Starr, and reportedly never played the same set twice. His instrumental cult hit Gonzo was rumoured to have inspired Hunter S Thompson’s journalistic moniker.
With Bayou Maharajah, Keber has compiled transfixing, exclusive performance footage with rare photos and a line up of acclaimed musicians to reveal an uplifting but ultimately tragic conjurer of the music of the soul.
“Ecstatic, sorrowful, beautiful, pained, full of anger, joy and something otherworldly.” – Austin360.com
96 minutes. Director: Lilu Keber / Producer Nathaniel Kohn will be a guest of the festival.
Saturday August 3 – 11.00am / Thursday August 8 – 9.00pm
BIG NAME NO BLANKET (AUSTRALIA)
The fans knew him as the “black Mick Jagger”. His band kick-started Aboriginal rock, releasing the first ever Aboriginal-language rock songs in the mainstream. His name was George Rrurrambu and this is his story.
Back in 1981 George Rrurrambu and his Warumpi Band burst out of the Northern Territory’s red heart and straight into Australian rock history. Unashamedly political and driven by the fight for Indigenous rights, they fused rock ‘n’ roll, reggae and blues, releasing Australia’s first mainstream rock sung in an Indigenous language and simultaneously exposing Australians to a part of their country that most simply ignored.
Australia’s premier Indigenous documentarian, Steven McGregor (Croker Island Exodus, MIFF 2012), returns with this powerful, incisive portrait of a man who changed the face of Australian music – and of Aboriginal history. Mixing never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with those who were along for the ride, Big Name No Blanket is the essential tribute to the man whose music has provided a soundtrack for the modern reconciliation movement.
58 Minutes. Dircetor: Steven McGregor
Tuesday August 6 – 9.00pm
COSMIC PSYCHOS: BLOKES YOU CAN TRUST (AUSTRALIA)
They were adopted by grunge nobility, but the main reason Cosmic Psychos frontman Ross Knight wore the flannel shirt was because he’s a farmer.
Commercial and music video director (and musician himself) Matt Weston branches out with his first feature, documenting our most unlikely stars. How did three mongrel rockers, who wrote songs about dead ‘roos, pies and beer, conquer the globe with some of the most revered bands of the ‘90s?
Charting the colourful three-decade history of the group and its enigmatic, entertaining frontman, Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust features interviews with band members as well as grunge icons including Eddie Vedder and Buzz from The Melvins. It also showcases raucous archival footage – some supplied by fans – and captures the unadulterated larrikinism of three beer-swilling Aussies taking on the world.
91 minutes. Director: Matt Weston
Friday July 26 – 9.00pm
The story of Napster’s Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, whose desire to share music wounded an entire industry.
Fans loved it, Metallica and Dr Dre vowed to destroy it, and after three years plundering the catalogues of the music behemoths, Napster was bankrupt. But the story of the toll it took can only be told now.
Over a decade, Alex Winter (of Bill & Ted fame) chronicled Napster’s rocketing rise to global fame, its spectacular crash in the largest corporate lawsuit in history, and what it means for music today.
Featuring past and present interviews with Fanning and Parker, industry figures, government officials and digital rights activists, as well as musings from Noel Gallagher, Henry Rollins, Beastie Boy Mike D and more, Downloaded reflects on the media circus surrounding music piracy’s bloody birth.
106 minutes. Director: Alex Winter
Saturday July 27 – 9.00pm
Monday August 5 – 9.00pm
Sunday August 11 – 1.30pm
FILMAGE: THE STORY OF THE DESCENDANTS/ALL (USA)
Would the likes of Green Day and Blink 182 have existed were it not for Californian punk-pop band the Descendents? Unlikely, according to this entertaining and thorough rock bio-doc charting a history that now spans more than 30 years.
Led by singer Milo Aukerman, possibly the world’s coolest nerd (until he left the band to become a scientist), and driven in part by an obsessive fixation on coffee, the band helped draw the blueprint for melodic hardcore. FILMAGE charts the rise, fall and fortunes of the many incarnations of the Descendents, and of their offshoot band, ALL – “the band guilty of not being the Descendents” according to one of more than 40 interviewees, including members of Black Flag, Minor Threat, Redd Kross, NoFX, MXPX, Blink 182 and Mike Watt.
90 minutes. Directors: Deedle LaCour, Matt Riggle
Wednesday July 31 – 9.00pm / Saturday August 3 – 9.00pm
Once upon a time if a young Filipino man wanted to woo a girl there was only one thing for it: harana. Backed by friends and the town’s finest guitarist he would stand beneath her window and serenade her until she invited him in or sent him away.
But harana is now a dying tradition. Benito Bautista’s heart-warming documentary follows classical guitarist Florante Aguilar as he seeks out three of the only remaining harana masters and tries to convince them to sing one last time. Unabashedly celebratory, Harana (like Buena Vista Social Club before it) is a shining testament to the music and soul of a rich and complex culture, a glorious ode to things lost and the things we cannot afford to lose, and a nostalgic record for future generations.
104 minutes. Director: Benito Bautista
Saturday July 27 – 1.30pm / Sunday August 4 – 9.00pm
MISS NIKKI & THE TIGER GIRLS (Australia)
The western construct of ‘Girl Power’ is a relatively new concept in countries such as Myanmar (also known as Burma), where decades of military and social control are slowly being relaxed. Enter Miss Nikki, an Australian who, on the wave of the Asian pop phenomenon, helps guide five young Burmese women in their quest to become a sassy pop group.
Miss Nikki leads her fledgling stars through the music industry maze amid both socio-political repression and the new possibilities of change, including the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. Universal issues of talent, image, control and identity play out as the girls struggle at once with Myanmar’s rigid social mores and a single-minded ambition that could either undermine the whole project or propel them to the top.
75 minutes. Director: Juliet Lamont.
Monday August 5 – 6.30pm / Wednesday August 7 – 9.00pm
MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS (USA)
In 2010 indie darlings The National set out on a world tour on the back of their critically acclaimed album, High Violet. Joining them as a roadie was frontman Matt Berninger’s younger brother Tom, a general layabout whose biggest previous achievements included directing a couple of ultra low-budget schlock horror flicks. But just as his penchant for not working threatens to get him fired, Tom decides he should probably film what’s going on.
The result is Mistaken for Strangers, a mystifying, hilarious and very much improvised investigation of the relationship between these two extremely different brothers. Cross-cutting intimate live footage with a first-hand glimpse into the fraying bond between the two Berningers, Tom may have made the first anti-music music film: a rock concert-turned-tribute to the universal frustrations and joys of being related.
80 minutes. Director: Tom Berninger
Thursday August 1 – 6.30pm / Sunday August 4 – 9.00pm
MUSCLE SHOALS (USA)
In the 1960s, the tiny Alabama town of Muscle Shoals became the unlikely source of some of the most creative and celebrated funk and soul music in American history.
Under the control of FAME Studios founder Rick Hall, white, extraordinarily funky, session musicians and black singers unexpectedly smashed the racist cultural barriers of the time to develop the Muscle Shoals sound. Like ants to sugar, stars including the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd were drawn to record at FAME, often resulting in the finest records of their careers.
Greg “Freddy” Camalier directs this compelling doco of the little studio that could, with interviewees including Franklin and Pickett, Richards and Jagger, Bono, Bobby Womack and of course Rick Hall, whose own upbringing amid crushing hardship drove him to “wanna be somebody”.
108 minutes. Director: Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier
Saturday July 27 – 1.30pm / Sunday August 4 – 6.30pm
THE PUNK SINGER (USA)
As a founder of the riot grrrl movement in the 1990s, singer Kathleen Hanna was a force of nature. As the leader of punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre, Hanna became an outspoken feminist icon, adored and attacked equally. So when this woman with so much to say suddenly became silent in 2005, many wondered why.
Sini Anderson’s documentary is an archival footage-laden celebration of Hanna’s career, and more surprisingly an intimate and very moving look at her health battles. It features extensive interviews with artists including Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Hanna’s husband, Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz. A testament to a complex and inspiring artist.
82 minutes. Director: Sini Anderson
Monday July 29 – 6.30pm / Saturday August 3 – 6.30pm
THE STONE ROSES: MADE OF STONE (UK)
When Ian Brown sang I Wanna Be Adored, the opening song of their 1989 eponymous debut, Manchester band the Stone Roses became self-prophesisers. Decades after the ecstasy afterglow, and 15 years after their breakup, the baggy love remained strong for the pioneers of the melodic, narcotic “Madchester” sound.
Director Shane Meadows (This is England) goes behind the scenes of the reunion of his “all-time favourite band”, interweaving archival footage with that from his own exclusive access, taking us from early rehearsals to the band’s celebratory hometown gigs at Heaton Park. In addition to offering the only official footage of the group’s 2012 tour, The Stone Roses: Made of Stone is an emotional, euphoric tale of one of modern music’s most unlikely resurrections.
96 minutes. Director: Shane Meadows
Saturday July 27 – 9.00pm / Tuesday August 6 – 6.30pm
THE SUNNYBOY (Australia)
Following the Sunnyboys’ enigmatic frontman Jeremy Oxley from the band’s origins, breakthrough success and his subsequent 30-year battle with schizophrenia, The Sunnyboy is one man’s inspired story of survival and hope.
A meditation on a condition often stigmatised and misunderstood, Kaye Harrison’s documentary buries below the surface of Oxley’s public ‘identity’ to explore his own reality and battle to maintain ‘self’. Secure in a loving relationship with his partner Mary, Oxley slowly emerges from his solitary torment to join the world we all share.
The film follows him as he tentatively unpicks his confused thoughts and feelings about the past with his brother Peter. From his struggle with the physical effects of years spent self-medicating to his hopeful contemplation of a married future and a daring return to the stage, The Sunnyboy is the definitive documentary of Jeremy Oxley’s journey from the Sunnyboys and back.
Kaye Harrison and Peter Oxley are guests of the festival.
90 minutes, Director: Kaye Harrison
Friday August 9 – 6.30pm / Sunday August 11 – 4.00pm
THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC ! (USA)
Gutsy and joyous, the sound of roots music is the story of America. And Chris Strachwitz became its biographer.
So much of the American South’s music is destined to be lost: played on porches and streets, in the swamps and fields, to friends and passers-by, but never recorded. Chris Strachwitz, however, has dedicated his life to capturing it. His label Arhoolie Records has been immortalising New Orleans jazz, roughneck blues, Creole, Cajun, zydeco, Tex-Mex and Mexican-American norteño sounds for over 50 years.
Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling’s spirited tour through the Deep South (visiting Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Doucet, the Pine Leaf Boys, and more) traces one man’s obsession, and the fortuitous family that it has created.
92 minutes. Director: Chris Simon / Maureen Gosling.
Maureen Gosling is a guest of the festival.
Friday August 2 – 6.30pm / Monday August 5 – 9.00pm
TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM (USA)
The back-up singers who made great songs greater and enhanced the voices of music icons from Mick Jagger to Stevie Wonder step into the limelight in Morgan Neville’s (Troubadours MIFF 2011) Twenty Feet From Stardom.
Set against an unforgettable soundtrack and shining the spotlight on these larger-than-life men and women – the unsung heroes behind the biggest hits of the past few decades – Neville’s thoroughly enjoyable Sundance opening night selection builds a contextual collage punctuated with archival footage and interviews with music industry luminaries including Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. The result is a genuinely fresh perspective into an often-overlooked part of modern music history.
90 minutes. Director: Morgan Neville
Saturday July 27 – 6.30pm / Saturday August 3 – 9.00pm