Over the last few years, NorthwestFest has brought us some of the best documentaries Edmonton audiences have ever seen, including Jodorowsky’s Dune, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and the staggeringly must-see How to Survive a Plague.
This week, the city’s oldest documentary film festival released the lineup for its May 2-12 dates, and mama does it ever sing — including on Mother’s Day.
Ever tweaking its formula, a substantial portion of NorthwestFest’s lineup wraps around music docs this year, the selections ranging in subject from Gordon Lightfoot to Blue Note Records to a splendidly funny examination of the song Who Let the Dogs Out.
While there are also plenty of feature docs on other subjects, from sex-positive Dr. Ruth to also-sex-positive Satan, longtime festival programmer Guy Lavallee gets into the music movies first — including the May 2 opening night film, After So Many Days, with which he instantly fell in love.
Lavallee explains, “It’s a husband and wife duo named Jim and Sam who challenged themselves to play a show a day for 365 days. Some days it was literally walking into a laundromat and asking, ‘Hey, can we play a show for you guys?’”
Lavallee has a hunch the artists might explode internationally. “I feel like this band you’re going to be hearing a lot about six months from now. Maybe we can be the first to show the world.”
Leaving the next day on a European tour, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter duo will perform live after the film, which like all but one of the movies is playing at Metro Cinema at Garneau Theatre through the 10-day fest.
Of the documentary Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, Lavallee says, “I feel like anybody’s who’s ever gone to the Folk Fest should be beating down the doors to see this — just him telling incredible stories about his life and career.” That one plays 7 p.m., Friday, May 3.
The full schedule, by the way, is at northwestfest.ca.
The self-explaining title Blue Note Records (2 p.m., May 11), meanwhile, has a wider focus than just an artist or two. “I always find these docs — when it’s not just about one artist — so fascinating, a peek behind the curtain. You don’t have to be a jazz fan for this one,” the programmer says.
Gay Chorus Deep South, meanwhile, is having its world premiere at Tribeca a week before playing here, and, says Lavallee, “It’s one of the most inspiring documentaries I’ve seen, music or otherwise, in a while.” That one’s playing at 7 p.m., May 10.
As always, NorthwestFest is having its shorts program, this year on May 7. One of these bite-sized films is the 22-minute Hip Hop: The New Generation, filmed in Winnipeg, including a number of Indigenous subjects. Lavallee explains, “One kid very openly talks about how if it wasn’t for hip hop, discovering how to work out his anger and frustrations through music, he’d be dead because he would have committed suicide.”
Moving on, Satan and Adam is about as unlikely a duo as its title implies: “Satan was this bluesman busking on the street of Harlem in the ’80s,” the programmer explains. “Adam was a 22-year-old Jewish white kid going to Harvard who asked if he could play with him.”
The two went on to tour the world — until Satan disappeared, explored in the second half of the film, which the director filmed for a mind-boggling 24 years.
Mother’s Day — May 12 — features the doc Bathtubs Over Broadway, which started with a writer for David Letterman looking for weird records to be part of the hilarious “Dave’s Record Collection” bit. One day he found a record — a Broadway-style musical “for internal use only” — with all of its energetic songs about GE appliances.
“It became this thing where corporations all over America, for their annual sales conferences, would commission musicals,” Lavallee laughs. “It’s one of the funniest and most charming — one of my favourite movies of the year.”
Lavallee says the festival pulled back slightly on in-your-face political film this year, considering our general us vs. them burnout, especially here in Alberta. “We get so much of it blasted into our face every day. There were a bunch of ‘touched by Trump’ films submitted, and we felt we’d seen a lot of that.
“But one we brought in,” he says, “that’s extremely well done is The Brink, which had unfettered access to Steve Bannon for a year. It really opens your eyes as to how he was able to get to where he is, he can actually be quite charming. He gives it out, but he can take it. I think it’s important to look at guys like this and see what makes them tick.”
Other ‘issue’ films include The Silence of Others — about the decades-long Franco dictatorship in Spain — and Midnight Traveler — shot urgently in first person over three years after the Taliban put a price on filmmaker Hassan Fizili’s head. He fled the country with his wife and two daughters, gathering footage the whole time their lives were in danger.
Closing night — Saturday, May 11 — features Who Let The Dogs Out, which unpacks the backstory of one of the world’s most annoying songs.
“There’s so many layers it plays more like a comedic mystery thriller,” Lavallee laughs, noting that both this film and the one that follows it up, F— You All: The Uwe Boll Story, feature directors with something interesting in common. “Even though neither of them is based here now, both directors grew up in St. Albert.” That would be Brent Hodge and Sean Patrick Shaul, respectively.
Uwe Boll’s Rampage follows. Its elevator pitch: “A man with a thirst for revenge builds full body armor from Kevlar and goes on a killing spree.” The cult film director will also be present. Lavallee laughs, “He emailed me and said, ‘Yeah I’ll be there. Just make sure you have a private jet waiting for me.’”
Finally, three films I saw at Sundance in January — Hail Satan?, The Origins of Alien, and Cold Case Hammarskjold — are each uniquely mind-blowing, and I recommend them fully. Especially the first one, which looks at the Satanic Temple trolling hypocritical government policy when it comes to not actually separating church and state.
The full list of films is up at northwestfest.ca, where you can also buy tickets for $13 a pop. All-access passes to all the films costs $119, with four packs going for $39, which basically offers a free screening right there.
So bring your mom, your out dogs, or even your favourite Satanist to Metro Cinema this May — and let the mind-expanding begin!