Big Ears 2018

For nearly a decade now, the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville has been a low-key event of high significance to the world of music. Writing about the 2016 edition in the New York Times,Ben Ratliff noted that it “has a rare, intuitive and ultimately anti-commercial vision, presented with purpose and first-rate sound on a thoughtful scale to a growing audience that isn’t even close to jaded about it. This is why I have gone every year since it started in 2009.”

2016 was also the year that Public Cinema co-founders Paul Harrill and Darren Hughes began programming films for the festival, and yesterday saw the first announcement of the initial round of titles and series they’ve lined up for the 2018 edition running from March 22 through 25. In this entry, we’ll flag further announcements and then gather notes on dispatches and reviews during the festival’s run.

First up, Lewis Klahr will be on hand as a visiting artist as Big Ears presents a selection of his films and an installation. The image at the top is from Sixty Six (2002–2015). As it happens, the new issue La Furia Umana—which we’ll get to a bit later—features a dossier on Klahr that opens with editor Toni D’Angela’s interview and features commentary on the work from, among many others, Fern Silva and Jodie Mack.

Mack, in turn, will have work in the program entitled “Stereo Visions: A Survey of 3D Cinema,” curated in collaboration with Blake Williams, who’ll be presenting PROTOTYPE.

There’ll be a celebration of Canyon Cinema’s fiftieth anniversary with presentations of thirty-six works on a wide range of formats, including digital media, 8 mm, Super 8, 16 mm, and 35 mm prints.

And then there’s the ten-film series “A Sense of Place: A Retrospective of American Regional Cinema, 1960-1989,” featuring work by “Pittsburgh’s George A. Romero, Baltimore’s John Waters, and Portland’s Gus Van Sant. Also included are genre films with a deep sense of place (like Victor Nunez’s A Flash of Green), formally adventurous works like Trent Harris’s The Beaver Trilogy, and seminal films like Eagle Pennell’s The Whole Shootin’ Match, which inspired Robert Redford to launch the Sundance Institute. John Waters’s Polyester will be screened with scratch-n-sniff Odorama! cards.”

Music and film will meld in a set of live score performances. Bang on a Can All-Stars will accompany work by Bill Morrison and Christian Marclay; violinist Jenny Scheinman and ensemble will score H. Lee Waters’s Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait; Wordless Music, in partnership with Knoxville ensemble Nief-Norf, will score Viktor Jakovleski’s Brimstone & Glory (2017); and Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel “will sonically represent the celluloid explorations of filmmaker Robbie Land.”

Update, 2/22: The full schedule for the film program is now set. One of the new additions is Milford Graves Full Mantis, directed by Jake Meginsky and co-directed by Neil Young. Thurston Moore calls it “a portrait of one of the most fascinating lights in the lineage of late 20th-century music. It is a sonic-visual ode to the ineffable magic of inspired and gracious living.”

Another is Born in Bristol: The Untold Story of the Birth of Country Music. From Plan A Films: “Combining fictional reality (re-enactments that play more like scenes from a narrative movie) and interviews with Country Music legends such as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Steve Earle, and Sheryl Crow, this documentary feature film shines a light on one of the most unrecognized yet momentous occasions in Country Music history: The 1927 Bristol Sessions, where popular Country Music had its commercial birth.”

Updates, 3/24: Notebook editor Daniel Kasman talks with Blake Williams about “his interest in 3D technology and aesthetics, how he introduces the format to his students and new audiences, and highlights from his Big Ears program.”

Milford Graves: Full Mantis “is a dynamic portrait of the now seventy-six-year-old Graves, via observations of his life in his rambling, colorful Queens home, just down the street from the South Jamaica Houses where he grew up,” writes Geeta Dayal for 4Columns. “No one else is interviewed but him; the documentary is focused entirely on the legendary drummer and his kaleidoscopically varied interests—herbalist, martial artist, musician, acupuncturist, scientific tinkerer. The feature-length film pulses with energy, and Graves talks a mile a minute, each sentence a mouthful almost more inconceivable than the last one.”

Update, 3/28: “Williams’s Stereo Visions program was superb, kicking off Saturday with a capacity crowd for Jean-Luc Godard’s 2014 masterwork Goodbye to Language,” writes Jason Shawhan in the Nashville Scene. “It had been a few years since I had seen it, so you can imagine my surprise when I realized how funny it was, and how revolutionary it still was with some of its 3D aesthetic. There may be no more adventurous moment in the past decade than when Godard separates the two linked stereoscopic images, panning the right field while the left remains still. . . . Before Slacker, Richard Linklater made his first feature, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. It’s a shaggy tale of cross-country travel, a tone-poem to dudes who drift, and a loose statement of objective for pretty much the whole rest of his career. It’s also a great train movie.”

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