There aren’t many music film festivals in America, claims Roger LaMay, general manager for XPN-FM. There are a few in Europe, and there are festivals — like SXSW — that dedicate a chunk of their programming to films about music. But one of the few devoted entirely to music is the XPN Music Film Festival, now in its second year.
“Music fans like to think visually,” says LaMay. “A documentary form of the creative process is one that’s particularly strong in this festival. You can see how the music came to be in the words and in the portrait of the artists and those around them. It’s really about the creative spark, and the creative spark translated into art.”
That’s true of much of this year’s lineup, including “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings,” an intimate study of the ukulele virtuoso propelled into the spotlight by an unsolicited YouTube video. His life thus far (he’s 36) and his ambitions (he wants to continue doing this for a living) aren’t that interesting, but the focus on his craft is, with him relentlessly experimenting with an instrument no longer in size than some shoes.
Documentaries make up the breadth of the roster, curated by Philadelphia Film Society artistic director Michael Lerman. (There’s only one carryover — “The History of Future Folk” — from last year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.) But in addition to titles like “Good Ol’ Freda” (about the Beatles’ secretary) and “Twenty Feet From Stardom” (on the subject of backup singers), there’s a wide range of topics and formats.
The Flaming Lips are present with “Freak Night” (not their first cinematic offering with the word “freak” in the title). A documentary-cum-concert movie, it dives into a 2012 Halloween show, with frontman Wayne Coyne decked in zombie makeup and looking like Beetlejuice while the band largely plows through their heavy, proggy “Embryonic.” It’s not the same as seeing one of their mega-concerts in the flesh, but it’s close enough.
“Pleased to Meet Me” is a rare fiction film, where numerous actual musicians (and sometimes actors) John Doe, Aimee Mann and Loudon Wainwright III play musicians of varying skills trying to record a song. The comedy (and occasional drama) aren’t always there, but the atmosphere is affable and the insights into aging musicianhood prove potent.
“The films both document the creative process of music, but are also a work of art in themselves,” says LaMay. “It really does cut across cultures and age groups and demographics. But it’s all about the creative process.”
4 to Catch:
1 "Good Ol' Freda": Freda Kelly delves into her history as the Beatles’ secretary, but without getting into the cheap juicy stuff.
Thurs., 7:30 p.m.
2 "Twenty Feet From Stardom": Backup singers, almost by definition, rarely get their due. This doc seeks to correct that, with aide from Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler. Sun., 7:30 p.m.
3 "We Juke Up In Here": The Juke Joints — hopping venues for music, drinking and gambling, of the old Southeast — get their turn in the spotlight. Includes a performance by bluesman Rory Block. Sat., 4:30 p.m.
4 "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me": Ignored at the time, influential after, the Memphis rock group — featuring the late Alex Chilton — gets their Great Band doc. Sat., 4:15 p.m.
If You Go:
Through April 14
Various venues, prices