The eighth annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival opened Wednesday night and continues through Sunday, April 17, with screenings and live music shows all over town. Following are reviews of selected features screening; you can also read my review of the opening-night film, The Smart Studios Story. Unless otherwise noted, all screenings are at the Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee; a full festival schedule can be found at cimmfest.org. —J.R. Jones
A closer look at the second “M” in CIMMFest
The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival returns for its eighth installment this week, kicking off today and wrapping up on Sunday, April 17. The largest CIMMfest yet features tons of films plus question-and-answer panels, live scores performed along to movies, and of course concerts.
The musical performances kick into gear on Thursday March 14, with Hungarian-born singer and violinist Eszter Balint at the Hideout, blues combo the Taj Mahal Trio performing two shows at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and hip-hop producer David Banner doing his thing at the Promontory. That same night, local dark-pop trio My Gold Mask plays at 1st Ward, Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy brings the spookiness to Thalia Hall, and Taylor McFerrin (son of Bobby) performs at East Room in Logan Square.
Things don’t slow down on Friday, April 15, with experimental electronic artist Tim Hecker at the Empty Bottle, Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break at the Burlington, hip-hop royalty Slum Village at the Promontory, and suburban-bred hard-rock duo Local H playing their first of two shows at Metro—they’ll perform their 1996 album As Good as Dead front-to-back each night.
Local H’s second show is Saturday, April 16, and other gigs around town that evening include garage-rock maniacs OBN IIIs at the Empty Bottle, legendary DJ Afrika Bambaataa at the Promontory, Chicago-based producer Mano at 1st Ward, and synth-pop band Polica at Thalia Hall.
On Sunday, April 17, the festival’s final night, performances include singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb at the Old Town School of Folk Music and Indian-American multi-instrumentalist Gingger Shankar (daughter of venerable violinist L. Subramaniam) playing twice at City Winery.
These notables merely scratch the surface of the festival’s music bookings—for full lineups and showtimes, see our listings. Tickets can be bought per show, and festival passes range from $79 to $149. —Luca Cimarusti
Blackhearts Norway is still notorious for its black-metal scene of the early 90s, led by a cadre of misanthropes who were known as much for their criminal behavior as their no-fi sound. But the genre has since become an accepted cultural heritage, at least according to this documentary by Fredrik Horn Akselsen; its two Norwegian subjects, Arnt Gronbech and Vegar Larsen, play in the black-metal band Keep of Kalessin, which placed third in Eurovision’s 2010 songwriting contest. Akselsen follows the adventures of three foreign black-metal bands touring Norway—from Colombia, Luciferian; from Greece, Naer Mataron; and from Iran, From the Vastland. The musicians eagerly share their affection for the music’s history, and their passion helps to compensate for the movie’s lack of historical, social, political, or musical context. Giorgos Germenis, bassist for Naer Mataron, was elected to the Greek parliament in 2012 as a member of the fascist Golden Dawn party, but Akselsen never bothers to explain what this is or to press Germenis about his political ideas. In English and subtitled Greek, Spanish, Norwegian, and Farsi. —Leor Galil 83 min. Fri 4/15, 8:30 PM.
Desire Will Set You Free Queer twentysomethings traipse around Berlin taking in underground concerts, doing drugs, and having sex. This indie drama from writer-director- actor Yony Leyser (William S. Burroughs: A Man Within) is often as listless as its characters, who fail to emerge from the hallucinogenic blur of artsy gatherings and late-night revelry until the third act. A Chicago native, Leyser is keen on scenery, and his vision of Berlin’s dilapidated edifices, concealed greenery, and pristine transit system make the city feel big and beautiful; not surprisingly, the movie also reverberates whenever he focuses on the slopes and angles of his actors’ faces. In English and subtitled German, Hebrew, and Arabic. —Leor Galil 92 min. Sat 4/16, 7 PM.
Festival This 1967 documentary by Murray Lerner (Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival) comprises concert footage from four summers (1963-’66) of the Newport Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan laid the foundations for his iconic career. Other featured performers include Joan Baez; Judy Collins; Donovan; Peter, Paul and Mary; Pete Seeger and his half brother, Mike (rhapsodizing about the power of protest songs); and bluesmen Howlin’ Wolf and Mike Bloomfield (the latter chatting about his Chicago upbringing). Many of the performers and most of the audience are slim, fresh-faced kids in the grips of rebellious solidarity—though one self-conscious nonconformist condemns Dylan as a shill of the establishment. Lerner spends way too much time soliciting remarks from the musicians about the appeal of folk music, then crams in a lot of performances toward the end. Still, the film bears witness to a remarkable, giddy era. —Ted Shen 57 min. Sat 4/16, 5 PM.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land Kraftwerk showed how synthesizers could make people dance, but Gary Numan showed how synths could make them rock out. By feeding the keyboard through a guitar amplifier, Numan crafted a clanging, zapping sound that undeniably influenced other synth-pop acts as well as hair metal and, especially, industrial. Many aspects of Numan’s life story are worth investigating: he was diagnosed with Asperger’s at an early age; he had a falling-out, still unresolved, with his parents, who were his business managers; he married and fathered three children with a member of his fan club; and he suffers from severe depression. Instead, directors Steve Read and Rob Alexander center their documentary on the production of Numan’s 2013 album Splinter; this approach allows for a fine introduction to Numan’s music, but the other subjects are addressed too briefly to cohere as a narrative. —Tal Rosenberg 85 min. Sat 4/16, 5 PM.
A Good Man Produced for the PBS series American Masters, this Kartemquin documentary looks at the revered choreographer Bill T. Jones as he creates a modern-dance piece about Abraham Lincoln to make its world debut at the 2009 Ravinia Festival. The most interesting scenes come near the beginning, as the black artist remembers his childhood in the 1950s and ’60s, marvels at this opportunity to honor “the only white man I was allowed to love unconditionally,” and ponders recent news stories asserting that Lincoln was a white supremacist at heart. But historiography soon gives way to choreography, as filmmakers Bob Hercules and Gordon Quinn observe Jones driving his dancers, musicians, and stage designers to the breaking point. Through it all, you can see what makes him such an effective artist in a collaborative medium: the ability to enlarge his diva moments into a communal experience. —,J.R. Jones 85 min. Sat 4/16, 1 PM.
Half-Cocked A dog-eared valentine to indie-rock slackerdom, this 1994 black-and-white feature centers on a disaffected young woman in Louisville who impulsively makes off with her brother’s vanful of musical equipment and, along with some similarly aimless pals, embarks on a guerrilla concert tour of the southeast. They can’t play a lick, but they’re perfectly capable of sleeping on floors and scraping together change for convenience-store food, which gives them all the cred they need. First-time filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky were veterans of the New York rock scene, yet their movie manages to be wryly satirical without compromising its low-grain verisimilitude; they later graduated to political documentary with the excellent Horns and Halos. Hawley directed; with music by Freakwater, Sleepyhead, and the Grifters. —J.R. Jones 81 min. Fri 4/15, 10:30 PM.
Heartworn Highways Shot in 1975 but not released until 1981, this documentary by James Szalapski captures the nascent stages of a poetic country music played by Texas outsiders like Guy Clark, Steve Young, Townes Van Zandt, and a young Steve Earle. Szalapski was privy to some highly intimate performances—a stunning rendition of “Waiting Around to Die” in Van Zandt’s spartan home, a Christmas Eve jam session at Clark’s place. Performance footage by some of the era’s bigger stars, including Charlie Daniels and David Allen Coe, seems out of place now, but all the artists surveyed share a fondness for the bottle and a distaste for the machinations of Nashville. —Peter Margasak 92 min. Sat 4/16, 7:15 PM. Old Town School of Folk Music
Music Is the Weapon Alex Gibney’s documentary Finding Fela! (2014) provides an excellent introduction to the life, music, and politics of Nigerian musical legend Fela Kuti, but this 1982 French film is a more immediate and arresting experience. Directors Jean-Jacques Flori and Stéphane Tchalgadjieff begin with Kuti’s visit to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, when he was radicalized by the American black power movement, and follow him back to his native Lagos, where he founded his own commune and political party and was endlessly persecuted by the Nigerian authorities. “I will be president of this country,” promises the singer, not long after his home was torn apart in a December 1981 siege. He never made good on that pledge, but the musical sequences reaffirm how much power he wielded from the stage, his infectious Afro-pop bringing an eloquent message of human dignity and potential. —J.R. Jones 53 min. Fri 4/15, 7 PM.
Prisoner of Her Past As a child of Holocaust survivors, Howard Reich grew up immersed in the psychological wreckage of Nazi atrocities. His parents, like many in their position, were tight-lipped about what they’d seen and endured, but when Reich’s mother, Sonia, began sliding into dementia in her 70s, her fearful delusions became a Rosetta stone that Reich used to decode her nightmarish experiences as an adolescent. Dry-eyed but deeply moving, this Kartemquin Films documentary by Gordon Quinn follows Reich (longtime jazz critic for the Chicago Tribune) on a journey of discovery back to the family’s native village of Dubno, Poland. It’s riveting stuff, though the cool jazz score by Jim Trompeter seems like an odd fit for the subject matter. —Cliff DoerksenSat 4/16, 11:30 AM.
Savage Beliefs: The Movie Fans of Joe Losurdo’s comprehensive documentary You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984 might want to investigate this curio from 1984, starring the local quartet Savage Beliefs. Shot in 16-millimeter, with dirty tape edges visible on every splice, it’s a schlocky, unfinished thriller with the musicians playing themselves and guitarist Brian Gay trying to take a woman away from a sinister drug dealer. The band deliver a couple of good numbers in a show at the (now defunct) West End, and there’s even a guest spot by Naked Raygun, but this could have used a lot more tunes and a lot less drama. (Two black-and-white videos of Savage Beliefs, both superior to the music sequences here, can be found on YouTube.) Charlie Fink directed; among the future notables involved were film-projection specialist James Bond (playing himself—or is he 007?) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List). —J.R. Jones 82 min. Thu 4/14, 8 PM. Martyr’s
Sigur Rós: Heima This 2007 documentary tracks the experimental-rock group Sigur Rós as it performs in small towns and unusual venues in its native Iceland at the conclusion of an international tour. In addition to the concerts, there are interviews with band members and wide-angle shots of the Icelandic landscape. This immense, overcast, and arresting backdrop contextualizes the band’s music, known for its scope (the songs typically run seven to ten minutes) and size (with heavy applications of reverb and frequent use of horn and string sections). This formula makes for a powerful experience on a great sound system after a couple joints, but it’s a dull and oddly morose subject for a movie. —Tal Rosenberg 97 min. Sat 4/16, 4 PM. Lincoln Hall
Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho Pete Townshend of the Who is among the talking heads who show up in this documentary to gush over Robbie Basho, the folksinger and guitarist whose idiosyncratic, non-Western style won him a cult following from the 1960s through his untimely death in 1986. Director Liam Barker struggled to piece together a chronology of Basho’s life, but the anecdotal scraps provided by the musician’s adoptive sister, college friends, and various associates don’t offer much insight into him beyond his discography and his devotion to the spiritual principles of Sufism Reoriented. By all accounts he was a remote personality, preferring to express himself through his transcendent music; his unearthly trill on “Blue Crystal Fire” expresses more humanity than the interview subjects’ inconsistent accounts of his hygiene and celibacy. —Leor Galil 83 min. Sun 5/17, 5 PM.
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars David Bowie’s 1973 farewell concert as alien rocker Ziggy Stardust must have seemed like foolproof material for a movie, but documentarian D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back, Monterey Pop) made such a mess of it that his feature wasn’t released for a decade. This digital restoration replaces the murky soundtrack with a sharp new Dolby mix by Tony Visconti, which should remind viewers what a killer band Bowie had in the glam-rocking Spiders From Mars. Unfortunately no technology can correct the blurry, flat-footed camerawork or ill-conceived stage lighting, which casts a relentless red orange spot on the androgynous star and leaves the band in the dark. Still Bowie’s most inspired and flamboyant album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars predated Pink Floyd’s The Wall in exploring the bizarre emotional life of rock superstars, but it’s not clear whether Pennebaker understands what it’s about—he can only grope for a visual equivalent with cliched shots of overwhelmed fans. — J.R. Jones PG, 91 min. Sun 4/17, 3:45 PM. Lincoln Hall v