Reel Music Film Festival

Starts Fri jan 9

Northwest Film Center

Starting next week--Fri Jan 9--and running through Feb 8, the Northwest Film Center stages its annual Reel Music Film Festival, devoted to music captured on film. This year the selection ranges from documentaries about Shane McGowan and brilliant Edith Piaf interpreter Raquel Britton, to the reggae classic Rockers. It also includes two world premieres dedicated to Portland artists. The first, The Losers Club, is filmed by director Pierre Oulette, who played guitar in the '60s with locals Don and the Good Times. Club follows local guitarists Steve Bradley and Jim Mesi through the '70s to now, from playing with B.B. King to playing at Jimmy Mak's, from keeping their music real to keeping from selling out.

Mission Theatre, Tues Jan 13, 8 pm & 10:30 pm

The second film about local artists, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, is indeed about Dead Moon, one of the most respected long-running punk bands in America, and P-Town's pride and joy. Directed by Jason Summers and Kate Fix, it chronicles their beginnings and captures their performances, ending at Tombstone Records, their label in Clackamas.

Guild Theater, Sat Jan 17, 7:30 pm

Here are a few others. See film shorts and film times for more info about individual Reel Music films.

h Bookshelf on Top of the Sky (dir. Claudia Heuerman, Germany, 2002)--Filmed in a manner that vaguely mimics avant-garde composer John Zorn's COBRA--a non-linear narrative that owes its structure to chance, based on "the manipulation of musical moments"--Bookshelf at the Top of the Sky explores Zorn, his music, and the director's personal relationship with both. The film features live footage, interviews, and director Claudia Heuerman's soul-searching narratives. While Zorn is an undeniably gifted composer, as an interview subject he waffles between intelligent and self-aggrandizing. It doesn't help that Heuerman spends the duration of the film fretting whether her final product will be up to Zorn snuff--understandable from the viewpoint of a fan, but the whiny reverence that accompanies worshipping someone as A. a God and B. better than you, gets annoying by the film's end. Better they had cut out half the narrative and left the film to the footage of Zorn and the Naked City entourage in action, which is completely amazing.

Guild Theater, Wed Jan 14, 7 pm

h Five Sides of a Coin (dir. Paul Kell, Jana Ritter, US, 2003)

Showing with Hip Hop Hope (dir. Darrell Wilks, US 2002)--Referring to the five elements of hiphop (deejaying, emceeing, b-boying, graffiti, and beatboxing), Five Sides of a Coin is really successful at capturing the street vibe of the genre, including captions written in graff and spray-painted footage, with the help of some snazzy animation. Interested in showing both the origins and depth of hiphop culture (as opposed to the media-distorted versions of rap music), the directors talked to everyone they could find--from Afrika Bambaataa to Rahzel, from Sherri-Sher to DJ Q-Bert to Grandmaster Flash--and, whenever possible, filmed them performing. While those educated in the history of hiphop won't discover much they don't already know (but will take much joy in seeing folks such as Kool Herc discuss their creation of the culture), it's an excellent, thorough documentary/primer for the uninitiated. Each scene, ebullient with beats, sparks with the energy of the boroughs. Astute viewers will clue in to one depressing fact: that a film about the most important American art forms in the past 30 years had to be funded by the Canadian government.

The New York of Hip Hop Hope, on the other hand, is an entirely different one. Filmed shortly after September 11, it documents the seething anger and grave sorrow felt by its rapping denizens. No one famous here, but it's a look at how hiphop was affected by the tragedy, rawness manifested in lyrics spat by emcees from the projects. As the rest of the world felt a blow to optimism, these lyricists detail the dearth of hope in their everyday lives, using rhymes as a means of coping with the racism, poverty, and overall bleakness that can accompany life in the ghetto. Uplifting it is not, but the intimacy with which the director filmed these emcees is moving and thought provoking, and ends in a most emotional manner, with a poem-eulogy amid the World Trade Center's ruins. Guild Theater, Thurs Jan 15, 7 pm