Now in its 11th year, the Filmusic Festival brings seven music documentaries to the M.V. Film Center on Thursday, June 22, through Sunday, June 25.
The festival opens with a 6 pm reception featuring guitarist Eric Johnson, playing live jazz standards and Brazilian classics. Sponsored for the festival by the cannabis dispensary Island Time, “The Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies” starts with a three-plus-hour film, the band’s standard concert time.
Beginning in 1965 as a jug band called the Warlocks, the Grateful Dead switched to psychedelic dance music, featuring Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Ron (“Pigpen”) McKernan. Working in an improvisational mode, the group drew on multiple genres, ranging from pop rock to country and western. “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones who do what they do,” said promoter Bill Graham. The Grateful Dead’s extensive fan base is known as Deadheads.
Two films play on Friday, June 23. The first brings the return of “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.” This documentary celebrates the iconic Canadian singer and songwriter who put Canada on the musical map.
Directed by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni, the film alternates between Lightfoot interviews and singing, and interviews with well-known musicians and record producers.
Many other well-known Canadian musicians sang Lightfoot songs, including Ian and Sylvia, Anne Murray, and Joni Mitchell. When Canada celebrated its 100th birthday in 1967, it was Lightfoot who gave the country an identity beyond hockey players and lumberjacks.
The second film playing on Friday is “City of a Million Dreams,” celebrating the unique music of New Orleans. It is followed with a talk by director Jason Berry, author of the book of the same name.
“City of a Million Dreams” explores the history of jazz funerals, followed by dancers in parade clubs in what is called “the second line.” These colorful performances in both music and costumes transform grief as well as racism into expressions of joy and transcendence.
Deborah Cotton talks about her adoption of New Orleans and of the name “Big Red Cotton.” She’s joined by clarinetist Michael White, a New Orleans native who plays “The Widow’s Wail,” a mournful tune, as part of the city’s funeral marches. According to White about jazz funerals, “For someone dealing with American racism and trying to figure out your place in this life … you can be transformed into another world that really sets you free.”
“Concert for George” and “What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears?” both play on Saturday. The first is a tribute to George Harrison of the Beatles.
Organized by Eric Clapton, it includes fellow Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr; Monty Python, Tom Petty, and Ravi Shankar, as well as many other top musicians.
In this remastered version for the 20th anniversary, one year after Harris’s death, Clapton arranged Harrison’s songs in a celebration of this acclaimed musician. The New York Times wrote, “The sweet, solemn music of George Harrison … has rarely sounded more majestic than in the sweeping performances of the enlarged, star-studded band that gathered in London at Royal Albert Hall.”
“What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?” is the second film that plays on Saturday. Headliner at the famous Woodstock ’69, Blood, Sweat and Tears won many Grammy Awards, including Best Album of the year in 1970. Then the band’s enormous success imploded, when Canadian BS&T lead singer David Clayton-Thomas had his green card taken away. The celebrated band was about to fall apart, when Clayton-Thomas brandished a gun at his girlfriend.
Instead of breaking up, Blood, Sweat & Tears brokered a deal with the government to rescue Clayton-Thomas’ green card. As such, they were the first rock and roll band to go on a three-week tour of countries behind the Iron Curtain. Their tour of Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland found them returning to attacks from both the left and the right. The film interviews the band’s musicians, giving insight into what actually happened to the band in that counterculture era.
Two icons of the music world end the festival on Sunday, June 25. The film “Love to Love You, Donna Summer” is about disco as it moved into the music scene. Summer was known as the “Queen of Disco.” Influenced by the ’60s counterculture, she became lead singer for a psychedelic rock band. After several years of performing in Germany, she recorded such songs as “Love to Love You Baby,” which brought her global recognition. When she returned to the U.S. in 1976, she had seven hits, including one with Barbra Streisand.
Her success continued, with a Top 40 hit every year from 1976 to 1984. Summer sold 100 million records globally, which made her one of the bestselling artists of all time. She won five Grammy Awards, and her song “I Feel Love” marked the start of electronic dance music. The variety of Summer’s achievements is illustrated by her appearances in TV sitcoms and specials as well as movies. In 1997, Summer appeared in “Family Matters,” as well as in the TV “Divas” special. Her song, “The Power of One,” was the theme song for “Pokémon: The Movie.”
“Eric Clapton: Across 24 Nights” is the final film playing Sunday. It’s appropriate that this famous musician ends the Filmusic Festival. Clapton performed for 24 nights at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and 1991. His music at those legendary performances included blues and rock, as well as a complete orchestra backup.
Some of the songs Clapton made famous that are in the film include “Running on Faith,” “White Room,” and “Sunshine of Your Love.” The film compiles music from the original footage over the next 30 years. Seventeen of his hits show him collaborating with other famous musicians.
Information and tickets for the Filmusic Festival are available at mvfilmsociety.com.