While the musical offerings at this year’s Sundance Film Festival don’t offer much for those looking for cult heroics or plucked-from-obscurity tales (both of which have been trending upward these past few seasons), the slate is long on something the gathering always appreciates — good stories.
One of the more anticipated premieres comes from director Alison Ellwood, who offers up part one of her wide-ranging doc “History of the Eagles: Part One,” an interview-and-performance chronicle that wends through the band’s sometimes contentious 40-year career. Ellwood has experience with difficult topics, having brought Hunter S. Thompson’s story to the screen in “Gonzo,” and stepped outside pop culture for “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”
“We thought that production would be more problematic than it was,” Ellwood says. “For instance, we weren’t sure if Don Felder (whose far-less-than-amicable departure from the band is part of an ongoing legal struggle) would agree to be interviewed, but he sat down and offered a great deal of insight. Don (Henley) requested some changes here and there, but they really did give us the reins to tell the story.”
Premium cabler Showtime will get first crack at “Part One,” airing in February, with a second installment to follow later this year. Members of the band will also gather prior to the initial screening to host a clip-fest presented by Acura. Ellwood and producer Alex Gibney will sit for a Q&A immediately following the fest unveiling Feb. 19.
Big names also dominate “Sound City,” a geek-friendly doc directed by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, who uses the narrative (a eulogy for a famed L.A.-area recording studio) as a bully pulpit of sorts to advocate analog sound — a niche interest, perhaps, but a passionate one for interviewees like Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood and the usually computer-friendly Trent Reznor. While wide theatrical release is still up in the air at this point, the doc is already available for pre-order at iTunes — price point being about the same as a ducat for the multiplex — and producers have put together subtitles in eight tongues, all the better to drive home the point that (analog) music is the universal language.
To help promote the pic, Grohl has assembled the Sound City Players, consisting of as-yet-announced musicians and special guests from the doc who will perform Jan. 18 at Park City Live, located at the space formerly known as Harry O’s.
On the non-doc front, attendees will also get a look at the long-in-the-works “Greetings From Tim Buckley,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival earlier this year. Tribeca Films and Focus Films are teaming to bring the telescoped Jeff Buckley biopic — which hones in on the singer’s appearance at a 1991 concert paying tribute to his late father — to a variety of platforms, both theatrical and VOD.
Other genres are getting their due at Sundance 2013 as well. One of the more intriguing entries in the short film category is “Black Metal,” a crowd-funded, nine-minute foray into the extreme genre that gives the work its title. Director Kat Candler, who earned kudos in the same category last year for “Hellion” (which she is in the process of expanding to feature length), explores the extreme music scene from the p.o.v. of a singer trying to balance his family-man existence with the dark arts — an effort made more difficult when a teenager shoots and kills a teacher, invoking his band as the motivation.
“I wasn’t really a part of the black metal scene by any means,” the Austin, Texas-based Candler says of the project. “But I got to be fascinated by it, and by the dual existence people lead on and offstage. What mainstream attention it does get is negative and really off-base. The image that’s out there just doesn’t jibe with reality. These are regular guys with families, kids, jobs … they’re just sincerely committed to this music that outsiders find really scary.”
To that end, music for “Black Metal” comes from deep within the insular scene, with sounds from bands including Vesperian Sorrow, Horned Almighty and Pallbearer.
Music also enters the Sundance picture in its live form, of course, with a number of venues around Park City devoting programs to festival-related bookings. While a goodly number of the acts who head to the mountains are unsigned, or at least seeking a foothold, others, like Matt Nathanson, who delivered a knockout performance at an ASCAP event last year, are lured by the appreciation factor, and a bit of schmoozing.
“I know it’s an ‘industry’ thing, but it’s not a music industry thing, so it’s different somehow,” says Nathanson. “For some reason, I feel like it’s a little bit looser, but that could be because I’m looser playing there … and because people actually seem to listen.”
This year, Sundance is partnering with L.A. public broadcaster KCRW on its music program, including Saturday and Sunday afternoon concerts — lineups yet to be announced — that will be broadcast live on the station. The long-running “Morning Becomes Eclectic” program will air highlights from other shows over the course of the following week. KCRW honcho Jason Bentley, who moonlights as a music supervisor on features, says, “(the station) celebrates the intersection of music and film throughout the year, and having a presence at Sundance Film Festival brings this commitment into sharp relief.”