By Morgan Cairns
CALGARY – Like Johnny Cash and June Carter, music and film have had a long withstanding love affair that has proven the test of time. Be it a narrative feature or documentary short (and everything in between) music on film, for many, combines the two things they love most; which also happens to be the case for the Calgary International Film Festival’s Music on Screen programmer, Guy Lavallee. In addition to programming the New American Cinema series, Lavallee hand-picked each of the seven films in the Music on Screen series, which showcases not only a varied range of film styles, but also musical genres. BeatRoute sat down with Lavallee to talk about the series, as well as some of his top-picks for BeatRoute readers at this year’s festival.
BeatRoute: With other series as broad as Documentary films, World cinema, or Canadian cinema, why the distinction of Music on Screen?
Guy Lavallee: What’s interesting in the Music on Screen series, is you get all of those [categories]. This year there’s Canadian films, American films, world films, documentaries, and narrative features. So what happens is when you just put those in their respective series, it can be really easy for them to get lost in the shuffle.
The second reason is it’s a very popular programming stream. It’s much like late shows, or festivals that have midnight programming; there’s a certain segment of you audience that it’s the first thing they look for. We find that a lot with Music on Screen. In the four years that I’ve been with the festival , one of the trends that I’ve started to see is that by mid-week of the festival I start to see a lot of the same faces at all the music films; and basically they’re all just fans of music-themed films. It doesn’t necessarily matter the type of music or the subject matter, much like music fans in general.
I’m a huge music fan, and I love tons of different kinds of music, so that carries forward to the kind of films I like to see, which includes a wide range of topics and subject matters. Finding out more about a lot of the musicians that you grew up knowing and loving; or not ever having heard of, and finding out these great stories that you didn’t know. That’s kind of the root of the Music on Screen series.
Having such a diverse range of films, as you mentioned, you end up with documentaries, features, shorts, Canadian cinema, world cinema, the list goes on. So with seemingly no limits in what kind of films you can select, what do you look for as a programmer when choosing films the series?
“One of the things that I’m always very cognisant of, and I do this in all series I program, is that you have to be really careful, especially with music, to not just program to your own taste. Otherwise all seven films would be Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax Records times seven. So you want to find a range, because there’s a range of people coming to the festival, and there’s a range of musical taste. But there’s also just a range of stories.
The perfect example this year is one of the films I programmed, Stay Human. Michael Franti from Spearhead and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, he has a huge following. Personally, before watching this film, I knew of him and I knew of his bands and his music because I had worked in record stores for a long time, but I don’t own any of him albums. So on the surface you’d think “Oh, is that something I would look at.” Well yeah, because maybe it’s not the form of music that is the first on my list, but you watch the film with an open mind, and it’s this beautiful story of his music, but also his activism. I didn’t know about any of that. That to me is what makes a really compelling film, when you’re finding out something about someone that you didn’t know before.
So I looked at the music aspect, and there’s a lot of his music in the film, but I also looked at the subject matter and the hope and the optimism that he really brings to the forefront, and I just thought that the time is right for a film like that. I think we could all use a little hope and optimism in our lives.
That to me was a perfect example of a musician I was aware of, but didn’t know much about. And it’s funny because now I feel a lot closer to what he’s done, and it’s made me want to listen to his music. That’s one of the great things about this series.”
“I’ve been a massive Joan Jett fan ever since I was a kid. So I was really looking forward to that Runaways movie with Kristen Stewart that came out a few years ago, and it was just okay. So when I heard about this I was like “Please do it justice.” I was familiar with [Kevin Kerslake]’s work, because he’s made some other music docs that were really good, so I was cautiously optimistic. But even with my cautious optimism, I was shocked by how good a film it is. They really did a great job. And she is just so badass, still to this day. And so influential.
It’s funny, you can still turn on rock radio, to this day, and you just don’t hear a lot of female vocalists in rock. It’s one of the last remaining old boy’s clubs. And she broke though so many barriers, and influenced so many people, that I’m just glad that her story was told and the filmmakers really did it justice.”
Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax Records
“The director of the film, Julia Nash, is actually the daughter of one of the founders of the label. So there’s obviously a lot of care and attention that was put into the making of the film because of that personal connection.
There’s people that I think are going to come in knowing these artists inside and out, but I also think there’s going to be a lot of people that maybe didn’t know the whole story of how and why this label started and how influential it was at the time. People forget so easily now, because of the internet, how hard it was twenty years ago to get some of this music, and to hear this music and get exposed to it. And if you did hear it, you’re like “How do I get it?” If you didn’t have one local store, like a cool store that carried some of that stuff, that brought in imports, then you were just at a loss of how to get it. It wasn’t a matter of just “Oh I can go on Spotify, type in any artist name, and listen to my heart’s content.” So for a couple of guys in the States to have discovered this stuff, and imported it in, and then really started this revolution of industrial music, I just think it’s fascinating. And it’s one of those things where you’re glad someone told the story because you don’t want this sort of thing to be forgotten.”
“I saw the world premier at SXSW this year, and I actually talked to the filmmakers right after the screening, and I said “I program the music series for the Calgary International Film Festival,” and they were like “Ok,” and I said “Calgary is in Canada,” *laughs* and they were actually familiar with it. So I got their card and went through the distributor, and it was one of those things where the minute I saw it, I was really glad I got to see with an audience, because it’s hilarious. It’s so funny and well done. How could you not love a movie where the band’s name is Impaled Rectum? And surprisingly, it’s not a “dumb” film, it’s really smartly written, really great performances, a total crowd pleaser. And you don’t have to like metal or death metal to like this movie. I’m not a huge metal fan, and I loved this movie. That’s when you really know a music film has transcended its genre of music. A great story is a great story.”
For more information and screening times, visit www.calgaryfilm.comBad Reputation, Calgary International Film Festival, CIFF, Heavy Trip, Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax Records, Joan Jett