IF YOU'VE NOTICED an uptick in the number of documentaries about niche and cult artists or bands, you have Kickstarter and Indiegogo to thank. Fans of groups like Bay Area-based experimentalists the Residents and recently rediscovered soul belter Syl Johnson have been cracking open their PayPal accounts to fund films that explore the lives and careers of acts that might otherwise be relegated to blink-and-you'll-miss-them magazine features.
One benefit to all this largesse is that the NW Film Center has been able to pack the 33rd installment of their Reel Music Festival with those and other crowdfunded works that, like their subjects, deserve wider recognition and appreciation.
Among them, you'd do well to check out Any Way the Wind Blows, Rob Hatch-Miller's documentary on Syl Johnson; Korla, the fascinating story of exotica organist Korla Pandit; Don Hardy's Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents; and We Are Twisted Fucking Sister!, a surprisingly inspirational look at the early years of glam metal superstars Twisted Sister.
As those documentaries should reveal, the NW Film Center's done an impressive job collecting a wide range of musical styles, with only a slight lean toward jazz (don't miss Jaco, the emotional story of pioneering fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius) and classical (if you missed it the first time it played in Portland, make a point to catch Seymour: An Introduction, Ethan Hawke's loving portrait of pianist and composer Seymour Bernstein). Otherwise, the emphasis is on artists who moved fluidly between styles and expressions. That goes for Mavis Staples, the gospel, funk, and rock singer whose long career is the subject of Mavis!, and it goes triple for Roxy: The Movie, the long-awaited concert film featuring a 1973 performance by Frank Zappa and the Mothers.
Something for everybody? Surely not—but if you keep an open mind (and open ears), you might just find your new favorite artist.