Last year, two of the most talked-about films at SIFF, at least among my circle of friends, were Drive Well Sleep Carefully, the pleasant little Death Cab road documentary, and Be Here to Love Me, the stunning portrait of genius Texan songwriter Townes Van Zandt. While I can't deny that the people I surround myself with are a music-centric lot, I think it's safe to say that Seattle overall is spirited in its love of both sight and sound.
That said, it seems a given that SIFF would launch a focus program on music documentaries. Face the Music, now in its second year, is something of a labor of love for the programmers at the festival.
"If you haven't already guessed, the entire programming staff of the festival are all music fanatics," says festival programmer Peter Lucas. "Seattle is such a music town, and people here have such eclectic tastes and sophistication for both music and film. This is a great city to have this sort of program."
While last year's grouping was dominated by artists' biographies, this year's Face the Music highlights ways in which music can be used as a background for cinematic experiences. For example, Portastatic will perform a live score of Lon Chaney's silent flick The Unknown at the Moore, Friday, June 16, and Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh will be in town that same night to discuss his own music/film overlap at Broadway Performance Hall.
Says Lucas: "[Mothersbaugh's] career is really the best example for how to look at both sides of things. He came from a band but was always interested in the relationship between music and visuals. I mean, Devo was one of the first bands to ever do music videos. And I'm amazed that people don't know about his film-score work. He did the theme for Pee Wee's Playhouse and Rushmore."
In addition to these new approaches, there are still plenty of traditional documentaries that run the gamut of world culture, from Faith Akin's Crossing the Bridge—The Sound of Istanbul to Jorg Bundschuh's To Tulsa and Back: On Tour With J.J. Cale. And then there's Screaming Masterpieces, a lusciously shot short film on Iceland's imaginative pop music scene. That film, as well as Björk, one of its principal subjects, exemplifies the seamless interweaving of music and visual art that is the festival's focus. Over the course of her career, Björk has been both a musical and visual wonder, and SIFF contends that her ability to appeal to the eyes as well as the ears is needlessly unusual.
Lucas also says the films are most powerful when seen as a group. "If you see them all at once, it has the power of a music festival," he says. "I've mentioned at a few of the intros that if anyone sees all of these music documentaries that I'll buy them a coffee. [laughs] But I might be getting in over my head with that."