Sound Vision


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Tom Waits said it best: “I always thought songs are movies for the ears and films are like songs for the eyes.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we pulled all our music documentaries together in one place again this year. Your eyes and ears will be equally happy.


Sound Vision 2013 line-up:

Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker
(USA / 2013 / Director: Lily Keber)
He toured with Aretha Franklin, recorded with Little Richard and mentored a young Harry Connick Jr.; yet despite his standing in the New Orleans jazz scene, James Booker, the self-described “Black Liberace,” remains mostly unknown. That won’t long be the case with Bayou Maharajah, an incisive look at the man Dr. John called “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” Using never-before-seen concert footage, director Lily Keber has crafted a joyous yet unsparing look at a man whose wild imagination and destructive appetites found their only outlet in his virtuoso piano playing.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
(USA / 2012 / Director: Drew DeNicola)
In the early ’70s, alternative rock forefathers Big Star released three albums that, while critically acclaimed, disappeared due to poor record sales. As decades passed, their legend grew, influencing such rock luminaries as R.E.M., The Flaming Lips and Wilco, while seeing all three albums land on the Rolling Stone top-500-of-all-time list. Even with this renaissance, their amazing story has never been properly told until now. It’s a moving portrait of what is arguably rock music's greatest cult phenomenon, a group nearly forgotten despite having left such a massive imprint on the rock ’n’ roll landscape.

Brothers Hypnotic
(USA / 2013 / Director: Reuben Atlas)
For the eight young men who comprise the joyful and bombastic Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, brotherhood is literal: They're all sons of anti-establishment jazz legend Phil Cohran. Raised on a steady diet of jazz and funk crossed with Black Consciousness on Chicago's South Side, this jazz cooperative has moved from busking on the streets to collaborating with Mos Def and opening for Prince. This coming-of-age doc is filled with their unremittingly unique brand of music and showcases their struggle to maintain the values they were raised on when confronted with the promise of record deals and musical stardom.

Enzo Avitabile Music Life
(Italy / 2012 / Director: Jonathan Demme)
Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme returns to the success of Stop Making Sense with this documentary spotlight on a lesser-known quantity to Americans, Italian multi-instrumentalist Enzo Avitabile. Taking a fly-on-the-wall approach to Enzo’s musical process and life story (doubling as a gorgeous portrait of Naples in the process), the film is host to remarkable jam sessions between the versatile Avitabile and a collection of amazing world music talents all performing sonic wizardry on rare and bizarre instruments native to their home countries. It’s a fascinating look at a remarkable life, filled to the brim with unforgettable musical moments.

The Girls in the Band
(USA / 2011 / Director: Judy Chaikin)
An award-winning look at the untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and the uphill climb they faced just to be heard, The Girls in the Band shines an entertaining light on women cast to the margins of jazz history. Subject to punishing sexism and racism, these women powered through all obstacles with good humor, steadfast determination and musical mastery as their guide. This long-overdue celebration showcases their groundbreaking journeys from the late ’30s all the way to today (influencing contemporaries such as Grammy-winner Esperanza Spalding) in a “real crowd-pleaser” that “may prompt a rewrite of jazz history” (Robert Koehler, Variety).

Muscle Shoals
(USA / 2012 / Director: Greg “Freddy” Camalier)
“Free Bird,” “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar” — the tiny Alabama town of Muscle Shoals is home to these and many more hit records that shaped the course of popular music. This rousing doc takes a look at the people (Rick Hall and “The Swampers,” his genius rhythm section) behind the town's sound, whose legendary FAME studio became a creative oasis where talent trumped skin color in an age and state where segregation ruled the day. Jagger, Aretha, Simon and Bono all lend their voices to a documentary that showcases the lasting power of the Muscle Shoals sound.

Narco Cultura
(USA / 2012 / Director: Shaul Schwarz)
In Ciudad Juarez, thousands of homicide cases overtax the crime scene units as drug cartels slowly tilt the system’s odds in their favor. Meanwhile, across the border, nestled in the safe embrace of El Paso, Texas, musicians work feverishly to meet growing demand for narco-corridos, waltz-like ballads that lionize the blood-soaked escapades of traffickers and kingpins (who play them over police radio channels in the wake of their violent acts) idolized for having escaped poverty and squalor. Cutting between these disparate scenes and showcasing a largely unknown counterculture taking hold across both borders, director Shaul Schwarz examines how a calamitous lifestyle remains so appealing as Narco Cultura continues to grow.

Stop Making Sense
(USA / 1984 / Director: Jonathan Demme)
Only the greatest concert film ever made, Jonathan Demme’s stunning collaboration with Talking Heads is a high-energy spectacle that gathers momentum throughout, allowing us to get swept up in the boundless energy of charismatic frontman David "Don't Touch Me, I'm a Real Live Wire" Byrne. Demme smartly trains his camera on the performers, allowing the band’s kinetic performance to rule the day in an environment where eminently danceable tunes coexist alongside ingenious stagecraft. A must-see for fans of concert films, this 35 mm screening is a “Once in a Lifetime” experience of a towering achievement liable to leave MFF audiences dancing in the aisles.

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