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Mon, Apr 20, 2015

Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMM) bridges music and film to showcase diverse local and international sounds

One can usually recall what one sees during a film; the grand moments of a protagonist’s redemption or the kiss over a sea cliff as the waves crash against the rocks. But how often does one actively recall listening to a film? The function of sound design has always been an integral component of moving pictures. Could one imagine Vertigo without Bernard Herrmann dizzying score of an endless succession of chords, or John Williams’ grand Star Wars score, or his menacing Jaws theme? We are always actively hearing a film just as much as listening to it, whether we realize it or not.

When Michael Jarrett asked Academy Award winning sound designer Walter Munch if film sound led us to hear the world differently, Much responded by saying; “…with recorded material you can manipulate sound effects—the sound of the world—to great effect. In the same way that painting, or looking at paintings, makes you see the world in a different way, listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently.”

Which is precisely what the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest) harnesses the ability to do, it will not allow us to forget the importance of sound and music within film but the programming at the festival will also allow us to hear the world, and thus interpret the world, in a new way. Many of the films featured at the 7th incarnation of the event highlight music as its prime subject, with stories about remembering, about contextualizing and about celebrating.

Taking place April 16-19, 2015 over various music venues and cinemas in Chicago, the programming is as diverse as the city itself. Founded in 2009 by musician Josh Chicoine and Bulgarian filmmaker Ilko Davidoff, they realized there weren’t film festivals highlighting the genre of music documentary. New faces this year include Adam Montgomery, Senior Manager of Programming for the Sundance Film Festival, who joins as director of film programming, as well as Andy Markowitz of MusicFilmWeb, who joins as a media partner

“Filmmakers are a little particular about where they show, so as we grow, we are getting better films and we are getting better at finding films,” said Dave Moore, executive director of CIMMfest, who along with the entire CIMMfest staff, works on a volunteer basis.

Moore, who also is a musician and played in a Chicago world music band named Dhamba Eight, first attended CIMMfest as a fan before becoming a staff member. He says this is another function of CIMMfest; to give younger promoters, event planners, artists and filmmakers the experience of working on and running a festival.

sam lay2Among showcasing both local and international music and film, keeping blues culture alive is an important aspect of CIMMfest, said Moore. John Anderson’s documentary on Chicago drummer-extraordinaire Sam Lay, Sam Lay in Bluesland, makes its world premier at 7pm on April 18th at The Logan Theatre (2646 N Milwaukee Ave.). The film chronicles Lay’s bombastic personality and role in the evolution of blues over the last 60 years as he has played with Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and James Cotton.

An example of the way this year’s festival harnesses the ability to make the public see and hear the world in new ways is John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, April 16th, 7pm at The Logan Theatre, which chronicles the story of western influence on Cambodian musicians before the Khmer Rouge ruthlessly wipes out the art.

“We were lucky enough for the Cambodian Association of Illinois to contact us, and we will present this film in conjunction with their organization,” said Moore. “Remarkably, the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge taking over Cambodia is Saturday, April 18th, right during our festival. This film shows these great artists and insight into a culture that you rarely see, and it’s beautiful.”
A theme of a convergence between ‘American’ and international culture emerges across the programming this year. Two New Millennium Orchestra members Dominic Johnson, a viola player and Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays the veena, will provide an original live score for Buster Keaton Goes to Bollywood with both original music and mashups from Bollywood film mixed with video created by Davis McCarty, as well as live Kalapriya Dancers. This is perhaps, quite literally, what Walter Munch meant when he said “listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently” and thus, understand disparate cultures in a new fashion. Presented with Chicago’s Lake FX Summit + Expo, the live score takes place at 1st Ward (2033 W North Ave.) on April 17th at 7pm.

This year’s keynote speaker will be revered filmmaker and documentarian Julien Temple, who chronicled the London punk scene in the ‘70s. A retrospective of six of Temple’s films will be screened, including his musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes’ novel Absolute Beginners, which will be presented on 35mm at The Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N State St.), a screening that may never occur again in this city.

The legendary, subversive and outspoken director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues and Malcolm X) will also be telling stories and sharing selected scenes from his films during “An Evening of Music, Film & Wine with Spike Lee” on Saturday, April 18th at City Winery Chicago (1200 W Randolph St).

punkghostOn the narrative end of the film lineup comes Teenage Ghost Punk, which was shot on location in Oak Park and directed by resident filmmaker and lawyer Mike Cramer. The plot revolves around a family who moves into a new home and finds punk records go missing, paranormal investigators join in and romance ensues. The tone of the film is light and irreverent, in a similar vein to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World mashed with a reimagined telling of a haunted house story. Having received incredibly favorable reviews from Geneva Film Festival, it features largely a local Chicago cast and crew. A predominant theme of the film focuses on music’s link to time, and the passage of time. It screens at The Logan Theatre, Friday April 17th at 9:15.

“Lots of the music in the movie was written and recorded by my son, Jack [who plays the teenage ghost punk] and his band mates who were students at Oak Park & River Forest HS at the time,” said Cramer in a e-mail. “Additionally, Grammy-winning musician David Blamires wrote and recorded lots of music for the movie.”

Two anticipated documentaries focusing on hip-hop and electronic music are 808: The Movie, directed by Alexander Dunn and The Hip-Hop Fellow directed by Kenneth Price. The former chronicles the influence of the revolutionary Roland TR-808 drum machine, which forever reconfigured the way the world made and listened to music. The screening will be followed by an 808 DJ party at 1st Ward on Friday April 17th featuring Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad and Liviu Pasare, technical director at Luftwerk in Chicago.

“What the 808 did was it allowed people to start making music in a different way, and with Chicago being the home of house, it was a major opportunity for producers to start working on different sounds that really inspired them, and made it easy for them to work on their music,” said Moore.

The Hip-Hop Fellow is a documentary that follows Patrick Douthit, known as 9th Wonder, through his tenure at Harvard University and “centers on the emerging significance of incorporating hip-hop music studies into academia, and highlights the scholars at the forefront of preserving 40 years of hip hop culture.”

Zooming out, and gazing at the programming as a whole, it’s hard to point to anything at CIMMfest that screams money-grab or mass appeal. As Moore mentioned, the staff works on a volunteer basis with the goal of showcasing great art and highlighting local artists.

“Venues are kind of the key to the whole thing, they help us out a lot… If I was just a promoter by myself it would be very difficult to put something like that together so it’s great to have the venues as partners,” said Moore.

While one may think the music venues may have an easier time drawing crowds than a movie theater, director Mike Cramer also makes a compelling case for why seeing a music documentary on the big screen can be powerful.

“When I was in college, Jonathan Demme made a concert documentary on the Talking Heads titled Stop Making Sense. I remember going to see it, and it was in a big old 300-seat theater with a big screen and big speakers, and everybody danced like it was a concert,” recalled Cramer. “There’s no way it would have been nearly as good watching it on TV, let alone a computer or a phone. You probably would not have been able to sit through the whole thing watching it on a phone, but seeing it with 300 was fantastic, it was like a spiritual experience you get from concerts.”

The live music portion of the festival includes singer and composer Lisa Fischer, The Rolling Stones’ astonishing backup vocalist, who will be performing at Thalia Hall (1807 S. Allport St.) on Saturday, April 18th. The same night, Chicago Mixtape will host a showcase at Hideout (1354 W Wabansia Ave.) featuring superb Chicago indie-rockers Santah, and across town at Emporium Logan Square (2363 N. Milwaukee Ave.), The Gomers will host “Gomeroke,” love rock and roll karaoke where concertgoers can pick from thousands of songs for the band to perform.

With a promising lineup of international films, original live scores, free panels and concerts; CIMMfest’s 7th year seems to be both one of its strongest and most surprising.

Passes can be purchased at cimmfest.org, and range from $50.00 for a four-day college student pass, to $40.00 for a one day pass, and $75.00 for four-day general passes.


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