Music on film? Fuck, yeah
Without having any firm questions in mind, I spoke to Kier-La Jeunesse, curator and programmer for the Cinemuerte Horror Film Festivals, about this yearâ€™s first incarnation of Big Smash: Music on Film Festival. Named after Wreckless Ericâ€™s 1980 album of the same name â€” one Jeunesse considers a desert island record â€” the Big Smash festival brings together over 20 movies about music and musicians; some are documentaries, some are smart, strange critiques on pop culture, and others are simply mind-blowing acts of musical weirdness. And while we all know that the music industry is a soulless nadir run by executives who are just in it for the money, this was confirmed by Kier-La as she started telling me how difficult it is to find and screen, let alone make, a movie about music. And while it is so totally awesome that sheâ€™s dedicated to bringing us these undiscovered gems, itâ€™s also kind of embarrassing that the only person with any balls in this city is a girl who lives in Texas.
ONLY: How did you come up with the idea for this festival?
Kier-La: Basically it started because down here in Austin I work for this theatre, the Alamo Drafthouse, and I do a lot of music programming. I have a weekly series called Music Monday, and because Iâ€™m programming these movies every week Iâ€™m constantly looking for music movies. After having done this series for a few years, Iâ€™d just seen so many great music filmsâ€¦ and the problem with a lot of music movies is that you get a lot of independent productions. Itâ€™s usually people who donâ€™t have a lot of money, but who really love a certain band or musician and who want to embark on a documentary about them, and then the inevitable problem always arises, which is the music rights.
ONLY: That must make it hard to get wide distribution, especially if the bands donâ€™t have the rights to their own music.
K: You can forget about it, unless you have a wealthy distributor who loves the film so much that theyâ€™re willing to pay to license all the songs. You can even have the band totally behind you, but it doesnâ€™t matter because whatever record company owns their music doesnâ€™t care about the band members anymore, they just want the money. And so while some of these movies do get picked up theatrically or come out on DVD, all the rest of them just kind of disappear. And you never see them again.
ONLY: Well thereâ€™s a ton of exciting stuff. Like Peter Watkinsâ€™ Privilege, and the Nina Simone concert movie.
K: Then there are also a lot of others that are considered new films because theyâ€™re still on the festival circuit. The only reason theyâ€™re still on that circuit is because they canâ€™t find a distributor willing to clear the music rights. So they keep on the circuit, trying to gain enough recognition to get a distributor.
ONLY: You live in Texas. Why do you keep coming back to Vancouver to do this stuff?
K: I have a kind of love/hate relationship with the city. For one thing, I go there and am disappointed at the turnout, but then from what I can tell no one else is doing anything like this. So at the same time there is a niche I have there, and part of me thinks that itâ€™s a shame to let it go. And while there might only be ten people there, those ten people are so stoked about what Iâ€™m doing that it really feeds me doing it. But letâ€™s face it, most of the time I lose money.
Go to Big Smash for the full programme. It’s good. The festival runs April 20-25, 2006 at the Cinematheque.