Mill Valley, and the hills of Marin County, have been homes to some of pop music’s biggest names: The Grateful Dead, Santana, Narada Michael Walden and legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, a fact not lost on Mark Fishkin, Mill Valley Film Festival’s founder and artistic director. “Live music has been part of the festival since its beginning in 1977,” Fishkin says. “Mike Bloomfield used to play solo piano before the start of a film and Huey Lewis and the News performed at parties for the volunteers.”
The festival also has featured live music at its opening and closing parties, and sponsored concert events to complement screenings, including the Music in the Movies extravaganza that featured Ry Cooder and Harry Dean Stanton, Tangerine Dream and Stuart Copeland in 1986, as well as a 1990 tribute to “Saturday Night Live” music director Hal Willner that touted such performers as Marianne Faithfull, Todd Rundgren, Bob Weir, Charlie Haden and Michelle Shocked.
“Sundance has had a music cafe for many years,” Fishkin says. “With the revitalization of music in Marin that’s been going on recently, we thought the time was right to help filmmakers and musicians develop creative relationships. Sound and music is a big part of film, so it seems like a good direction for us.”
Fishkin contacted the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to coordinate three days of ASCAP Music Cafe events. “We’ve been doing various music events at Sundance for 14 years,” says Sue Drew, VP of ASCAP who will book and produce the MVFF shows with her staff. “Mill Valley has never incorporated music this way, but there are films this year with a lot of musical content, including a documentary on the famous music store Village Music and one on Nels Cline of Wilco.”
Performers will appear at a three-day pop-up Cafe that will run from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 11-13 at Mill Valley’s storied Sweetwater Music Hall. Confirmed acts include Frankmusik, Pomplamousse, Nova Albion, Broken Anchor, the Goods, Cocaine 80s and John Doe.
“It’s an interesting gig, because people don’t come to film festivals to see musicians, but you can make connections and get work you never expected to get,” says Doe, whose music has been used on HBO’s “True Blood.” “Music has an intangible quality that can change your mood and enhance the experience of watching a film — the way Ennio Morricone voiced the music for ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ ”
Placing a song in a film or on a TV show is one way to get musicians the exposure they need to grow an audience. “The bulk of our business is still radio airplay,” ASCAP’s Drew says, “but getting music in a movie or on TV is important. Synching is the key to getting an artist known and musicians can draw attention to the films and filmmakers that use their songs.”
Fishkin is also aware of the symbiosis between film and music. “Filmmakers and musicians love to hang out together,” he says. “We’re hoping filmmakers will hear music and develop relationships with musicians that could last a lifetime and that we can find ways to (encourage) musicians and filmmakers to push the boundaries.”
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