The Ballad of Shirley Collins

Each year, the Northwest Film Center rounds up a slew of new and noteworthy music-related films for its Reel Music series—illustrating not just the power of documentary filmmaking as a tool to tell musicians’ stories, but also the ever-changing roles that sound and music play in today’s audiovisual narratives. With fewer films than previous years, this year’s Reel Music is a more focused, manageable batch to navigate, with a handful of must-sees (and a couple you should skip). Unless otherwise noted, all screenings at the NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.

Mr. Soul

Soul! ran on PBS from 1968 to 1973, and during those five years was a defining document of African American culture and the civil rights movement. This jam-packed, dizzyingly dense history of the talk show—and its charismatic host, Ellis Haizlip—is consistently fascinating, with extraordinary performance and interview clips with the likes of Stevie Wonder, James Baldwin, Kwame Ture, and dozens of others. NED LANNAMANN Fri Jan 18, 7 pm

A Bright Light – Karen And The Process

Karen Dalton seems to have been intentionally elusive. She took the Greenwich Village folk scene by storm with a bluesy voice that crackled like embers and mesmerized the likes of Bob Dylan, but never recorded her own material and moved to a cabin in rural Colorado after releasing just two albums. Dalton’s inaccessibility and her untimely death (she passed away at the age of 55 due to complications related to AIDS) propel A Bright Light – Karen and the Process, an avant-garde documentary in which French director Emmanuelle Antille contemplates death while road-tripping across America and interviewing those who knew and loved the folksinger. It will be mildly interesting for those who already count themselves fans of Dalton, but A Bright Light can feel like an unwelcome séance, an impossible quest—a search for someone who never wanted to be found. CIARA DOLAN Sat Jan 19, 7 pm

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Director Stephen Nomura Schible’s film on the life and career of Ryuichi Sakamoto is as austere and lovely as Sakamoto’s music. Cutting between contemporary scenes of the Japanese artist creating new work and choice snippets from his past as an actor, film composer, and member of Yellow Magic Orchestra—as well as the fallout of a cancer diagnosis—Coda becomes a fully realized and moving portrait. ROBERT HAM Sun Jan 20, 3:30 pm (screens with the hour-long concert film Ryuichi Sakamoto: async Live at the Park Avenue Armory)

NW Music Video Showcase

A 70-minute presentation of recent locally made music videos. Thurs Jan 24, 7 pm, screening at Bloodworks Live Studio

The Ballad of Shirley Collins

In the engrossing and vibrantly emotional documentary The Ballad of Shirley Collins, the singer—who, alongside her banjo-playing sister Dolly, led the revival of traditional English folk music during the 1960s and ’70s—reflects on her remarkable life. While she wanders through lush countryside and sips tea from a mug that says “diva,” Collins remembers her song-collecting road-trip through the rural American South in 1959 with her then-lover, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, as well as the traumatic loss of her voice, her struggle with dysphonia, and her premature retirement, and prepares for her 2016 comeback album, Lodestar. Even those who aren’t familiar with Collins’ music will be moved; it’s a heartwarming story of tragedy, triumph, and her inextinguishable passion for the songs of the peasantry. CD Fri Jan 25, 7 pm

If I Think of Germany at Night

This tedious look at Germany’s house music scene ignores the axiom that good documentaries are made in the editing room. Instead, we get excruciatingly long takes of DJs at work and uninterrupted interviews where they ramble at length, usually incoherently. There’s only about eight minutes of actual information in this 105-minute movie. NL Fri Feb 1, 7 pm

Industrial Accident: the Story of Wax Trax Records

The rise and fall of Wax Trax Records, the Chicago record shop and label that released work by industrial artists like Ministry and KMFDM, is a fairly typical subject for a music documentary. But since the film was conceived and directed by Julia Nash—daughter of Wax Trax co-founder Jim Nash, who passed away due to AIDS-related complications in 1995—the story is told with sharp definition and a deeply felt emotional resonance. RH Fri Feb 8, 7 pm

Depeche Mode: 101

Directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus make the fans as much of their subject as the British synth-pop band in this 1989 documentary. The filmmakers chose a group of Mode enthusiasts to hop on a bus and follow the group on their US tour. Great as the copious concert footage is, 101 best captures the spirit of being young and obsessed with music. RH Sat Feb 9, 7 pm