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(Courtesy photo) A scene from "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," part of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Music films, events on rise for Sundance Film Festival
Film Festival 2013 » Music films and events are on the upsurge this year.
First Published Jan 11 2013 10:48 am • Last Updated May 05 2013 11:32 pm

"Music and film go together like chocolate and peanut butter," says Corey Taylor, the frontman of rock bands Slipknot and Stone Sour, who will appear in Dave Grohl’s new documentary "Sound City."

That simple expression is just one example of how this year’s Sundance Film Festival will see a dramatic upsurge in music as a thematic element and as a featured performer. It’s a sign that the venerable indie film festival is also becoming more and more of a film and music festival.

At a glance

Celebrate the music of Sundance

Quite a few films at this year’s festival have powerful musical scores, said Peter Golub, director of the Sundance Institute Film Music program. He listed “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” with music by Mark Isham; “jOBS,” John Debney; “Stoker,” Clint Mansell; “The Necessary Death of Charlie,” Christophe Beck; “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes,” Nathan Larson; “American Promise,” Miriam Cutler; “Blackfish” and “When I Walk,” Jeff Beal; and “Dirty Wars,” David Harrington.

For more information about the 2013 festival, visit sundance.org/festival.

Welcome to the Sundance Music Festival

Park City Live, at 427 Main St., will be taken over by Wynn Las Vegas from Jan. 17-21. The venue will host DJs from around the world (including Dutch Afrojack, British Nero and French Cedric Gervais) spinning during the first weekend of the festival. It will feature “the flavor and flair of Las Vegas,” said Ronn Nicoli, director of strategic marketing for Wynn’s exclusive nightclubs XS and Tryst.

The Celebration of Music in Film event, at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20, at the Sundance House, 638 Park Ave., Park City, will feature backup singers who have worked with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Sting and Chris Botti. The concert celebrates a documentary about legendary backup singers, “Twenty Feet From Stardom.” (Event open to festival credential holders as space permits.)

The annual BMI Snowball music showcase at the Sundance House, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, will celebrate “Muscle Shoals,” a documentary about the legendary Alabama music studios. (Event open to festival credential holders as space permits.)

Other music-related events

Sundance-sponsored panels and roundtables include “Music and Film, The Creative Process,” a discussion Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the Sundance House; and “Power and Story: Measure for Measure” at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday, Jan. 25, which will feature composers Terence Blanchard and Jan A. P. Kaczmarek talking about music’s effect on cinematic history.

At this year’s Sundance ASCAP Music Cafe, at 750 Main St., there will be a new nightly showcase (open to all credential holders) curated by Los Angeles radio station KCRW-FM.

“I get the sense that [Sundance] wants to bloster their music offerings,” said Jason Bentley, KRCW music director. Andrew Bird and Jenny Lewis are among performers slated for night performances during the first weekend. Bentley mused that Sundance officials might like to emulate the success of the Sundance London Film and Music Festival, where music has had more of an emphasis than in Park City.

As for the daytime series, one performer, in particular, will bring a smile to the face of anyone who enjoyed the intersection of music and film in the 1980s. On Friday, Jan. 18, at 4:15 p.m., the Blue Sky Riders trio will perform, including Kenny Loggins, the undisputed King of the Movie Soundtrack. His credits include “I’m Alright” from “Caddyshack,” the title song from “Footloose,” and “Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys” from “Top Gun.”

A new series, Concerts at Sundance, will feature local and international artists’ performances to benefit the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The series will take place at Park City clubs, as well as nightly performances at the Silver Star Café, 1825 Three Kings Drive. View the schedule at www.parkcityrestaurants.com/silver-star-cafe. (These concerts aren’t affiliated with the festival.)

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There’s evidence in the variety of films that take music themes as their subject, ranging from Grohl’s "Sound City" to "Narco Cultura," "Muscle Shoals," "Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer," "History of the Eagles Part 1" and opening-night film "Twenty Feet From Stardom." At the 2013 festival, music geeks will have as much to savor as film geeks, with scheduled events and concerts, including one being billed as the biggest musical event in Sundance history.

There has been a "recent surge in people making films about music, and we’ve been drawn to the films that examine the spirit of creativity in music," said Trevor Groth, the Utah native who is the festival’s director of programming. "It ties very naturally to independent film, which has a lot of the same impulses."

Which is why it seems there are more and more music-related films every year at Sundance. "Robert Redford has always loved exploring the intersection of different art forms," Groth said.

At the intersection of music and film » While Sundance films about music are nothing new, audiences’ appetite for them seems to be increasing.

Exhibit one is last year’s "Searching for Sugar Man," which chronicled the efforts of two Cape Town fans, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to find out if the rumored death of American musician Rodriguez was true. It screened to rapturous applause on the opening night of the festival and ended up winning the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary.

Sundance programmers noticed. "Music creates an atmosphere in which a film can be experienced and helps allow the audience get lost in the film," said Peter Golub, director of the Sundance Institute Film Music program. "Any music that is wed to a film alters the way that film is perceived."

Golub reels off a long list of films with soundtracks and songs that have forever seared themselves into filmmakers’ heads: "Patton," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Doctor Zhivago," "Cinema Paradiso," "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "E.T.," "Schindler’s List."

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Then there are classical Golden Age musicals, such as "Singin’ in the Rain," "West Side Story" and "An American in Paris," or more recent musicals such as "Chicago," "Dreamgirls" and "Les Misérables."

For bringing attention to indie music, special attention should be paid to former Rolling Stone writer and director Cameron Crowe, who introduced grunge to mainstream America though 1992’s "Singles."

Crowe also helmed 1989’s "Say Anything …," which includes one of the finest contemporary musical moments in film: When Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holds up a boombox playing Peter Gabriel’s "In Your Eyes" outside Diane Court’s (Ione Skye) bedroom window.

Enter Dave Grohl, Lynryd Skynyrd, The Eagles » One of the most highly anticipated films to open at Sundance this year is the directorial debut of former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. His "Sound City" documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the famed Los Angeles music studio where classic albums such as Fleetwood Mac’s "Rumours" and Nirvana’s seminal "Nevermind" were recorded. The movie also serves as a philosophical treatise hailing the indie spirit of people making music together in a live setting, rather than in front of a computer.

The new documentary "is the most important thing I’ve ever done," Grohl said in a phone interview. "All along, our goal was Sundance, from Day 1. It seemed like the perfect place to be."

Along with the film’s premiere on Jan. 18, the Park City Live venue will host a sold-out performance of Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players. This first incarnation will feature musicians featured in the documentary, including Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Alain Johannes, Chris Goss and Corey Taylor, as well as Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Lee Ving of Fear and Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine.

Also taking the stage will be a cast of Grohl’s current and former bandmates including Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear. Smear, Novoselic and Grohl are the surviving members of Nirvana, and their reunion, alone, would make for a historic evening.

Another music-related film at this year’s festival is "Muscle Shoals," a documentary from another first-time director, Greg "Freddy" Camalier, which explores the history of the small Alabama town and the area’s outsize impact on modern music. The film includes interviews from Bono, Mick Jagger, Gregg Allman, Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys, focusing on the studios where songs such as "Brown Sugar," "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "I’ll Take You There" were recorded. The locale and house band were also immortalized by a lyric in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic song "Sweet Home Alabama."

"They don’t call it a universal language for nothing," said Camalier, explaining the reason to make a film with music as its thematic thread.

Then there’s "History of The Eagles Part 1," a music documentary with an impressive filmmaking pedigree. Directed by Alison Ellwood, the biopic is produced by Alex Gibney, who directed "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," nominated in 2005 for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and "Taxi to the Dark Side," which won the documentary-feature Oscar in 2007. His other films include "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" and "Casino Jack and the United States of Money." This year’s festival also will screen Gibney’s "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks," another buzzed-about documentary.

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