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The Jazz On Film Festival

greg king's picture
greg king Joined: 9th December 2010
Last seen: 11th March 2014
2011 marks the third year that ACMI has presented the Jazz On Film Festival in collaboration with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. "Each year we try to theme it a little, and try to integrate it into the program that they have coming out," explains ACMI film programmer Spiro Economopoulos. This year the emphasis is on the way in which jazz and film work together in unconventional filmic modes.

As he goes into detail about the program it becomes clear that the Jazz On Film Festival features a mix of documentaries, animation and short films that should appeal to audiences even if they know little about jazz. Here's what you can expect.




In His Own Sweet Way is a documentary about legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential American musicians of the twentieth century. Produced by Clint Eastwood, it basically looks at the creation of the album Time Out and the seminal jazz track Take Five. It features previously unseen archival material, photographs, and rare performance footage from the legendary Newport Jazz Festival. This fascinating and heartfelt documentary coincides with Brubeck's 90th birthday.




Intangible Asset No 82, from director Emma Franz, is a documentary that follows Australian drummer Simon Barker on a quest to learn more about a South Korean shaman, whom he regards as one of the world's great drum improvisers. It was a journey that saw Barker journey back and forth to Korea over the course of seven years. Franz is a guest of the Festival, and will attend the screening to introduce the film and participate in a Q&A session.




Chico & Rita is a beautiful animated feature film set in Cuba in the late '40s and '50s. It tells the love story between a jazz pianist and a singer, and there is a touch of A Star Is Born about their troubled romance. "Like all classic love stories it's really broad," says Economopoulos, "and I dare anyone not to be in tears by the end of this film. It's an amazing document of Cuban musical history and the history of that time, and it features real figures from that period in animation. In some weird way it conjures up memories of The Buena Vista Social Club."




The short film program highlights interesting ways that jazz can add to things like animation for instance, explains Economopoulos. A centrepiece of the short film program is a collection of short animated films from the animation team John and Faith Hubley, who worked for Disney and did a lot of short animation films in the '50s and '60s. They use a lot of really well known jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie to score their films. "It's really an amazing catalogue of jazz music of that period of America," enthuses. Economopoulos. "And the animation style is really quite creative as well, it broke quite a lot of the rules of the time."


He is very excited when talking about a late addition to the program, a fantastic collection of short films called Dream Minimalists. This program is a collection of short movies by (and about) Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine, who in the '60s were pioneers of jazz minimalism. Conrad also created a series of trailblazing synaesthetic flicker films, like 1970's experimental Straight And Narrow.




One of the more unusual films in the festival is Alejandro Jodorowsky's beguiling 1973 feature The Holy Mountain, because you don't usually associate it with jazz. "Personally it's one of my favourites out of the whole program," explains Economopoulos. The music score was by Don Cherry, and was famous because it was a very interesting kind of free jazz score.


"But apart from that, the movie itself is kind of wild, it's definitely extreme," Economopoulos continues. "I remember watching it and completely had my mind flipped about ten different times. I remember reading a quote from him where he mentioned that his spiritual adviser advised him to take LSD for research purposes, so that actually probably says a lot about the movie itself." The film has been championed by the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Dennis Hopper and Marilyn Manson. It was a real cult phenomenon at the time.


"It's a really nice print actually, and I'm really excited about seeing it on the big screen," concludes Economopoulos.


The Jazz On Film Festival screens at ACMI from Saturday June 4 until Monday June 13. Tickets are on sale through the Melbourne International Jazz Festival website, and from the ACMI website as well. Tickets are $14/$11 concession/$10 for members.