An excellent overview of the ambiance and showcased talent at arguably the best annual U.S. rock festival, "Coachella" captures an event that's equal parts Burning Man-esque communal experience and Woodstock for contemporary music fans whose tastes lie mostly well outside the mainstream.

An excellent overview of the ambiance and showcased talent at arguably the best annual U.S. rock festival, “Coachella” captures an event that’s equal parts Burning Man-esque communal experience and Woodstock for contemporary music fans whose tastes lie mostly well outside the mainstream. Performance-focused docu’s episodic nature makes its nearly two-hour length felt by the end, but the diversity of acts and visual presentation sustain the excitement overall. Produced by fest associates, the pic is self-distributing around the country in primarily single-day hardtop gigs, with San Francisco’s Roxie Cinema repping a first regular run that might well recur elsewhere.

If there’s a bad word to be said about Coachella Music & Arts Festival, you won’t find it here. Pic’s partisan/promotional side is rendered unobjectionable by the genuine good vibes it captures on- and offstage. Beck — one of several estimable musicians interviewed while attending as fans rather than performers — articulates a general sentiment in calling Coachella an invaluable congregation of “pretty much everything that’s happening in music at the moment.”

The good stuff, that is, within parameters of what’s appealed to a mostly white, collegiate, cutting-edge-inclined listeners since punk broke. That mix now includes generous helpings of electronica (Chemical Brothers, Crystal Method), rap (Dracula-clad veteran Kool Keith is primary representative here) and progressive R&B (Zero 7) in addition to all varieties of guitar-driven alt-rock.

That wide-ranging yet discerning programmatic taste is vividly limned by the docu. (Concert sequences, apparently drawn from throughout Coachella’s six-year history to date, are unfortunately not identified by year here.) There are dynamic segments with turntablists Nu Mark & Cut Chemist and rockabilly revisionists the White Stripes; entertainingly goofy, theatrical ones from Fischerspooner, Polyphonic Spree and Flaming Lips; and impressive displays of star magnetism by Bjork, Morrissey and an on-fire Iggy Pop. Latter reps the oldest but by no means least youthful performer on display.

Every segment here will be some viewer’s highpoint. That doubtless includes Prodigy’s obnoxious macho bombast, and an acoustic interlude by Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst that couldn’t be any more deliberately pathetic if he sucked thumb and clutched a security blanket.

Snippets of 80,000-strong audience life on the Indio, Calif., polo field find logistical problems (losing one’s friends in the crowd, tenting amidst windstorms, etc.) amiably taken as par for the course. Sex-’n’-drug aspects of a normally three-part equation are not emphasized.

Still, a few clever digressions introduce some bemused “conflicts,” most notably when the activist zeal of neuvo-soul crooner Saul Williams is crosscut with grousing Neal Gallagher of once-huge Britpop act Oasis. Latter smirkingly opines that a belief in using music for anything beyond “purely entertainment purposes … is very naive.” Of course, that’s easy to say when your music never signified anything beyond the occasional catchy hook buoyed by a brother’s indelible vocals.

Number of lensers credited as d.p. (16) suggests both the cherry-picking nature of what’s included here — imagery is often striking, Greg Nash’s editing superb — and the wealth of extra material likely to surface via DVD release. Sound recording is excellent for music (which emphasizes artists’ better-known songs), variable for interview segs.

Coachella

Production

A Goldenvoice presentation of a Goldenvoice production. Produced by Paul Tollett, Skip Paige, Bill Fold, Drew Thomas, Dan Kozman, Greg Nash, Mark Hall. Directed by Drew Thomas.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Dan Kozman, Thomas, Mark Ritchie, Cynthia Pushek, Greg Nash, Matt Davis, Jesse Phinney, Chagai Bolle, Francois Deganais, Kevin Smith, Ken Garff, Derek Carver, Billy Machese, Alex Pappas, Chris Sims, Danna Kinsky; editor, Nash; music, Guy Charbonneau; sound (Dolby Digital), Kyle Schember. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, Jan. 12, 2006. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Spearhead, Squarepusher, The Mars Volta, Belle & Sebastian, Nu Mark & Cut Chemist, The White Stripes, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Fischerspooner, Prodigy, Oasis, Bjork, Roni Size, Radiohead, The Polyphonic Spree, Kool Keith, Saul Williams, The Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes, Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, Morrissey, Pixies, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Flaming Lips, Zero 7.
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