VIDEO: THE INTERSECTION OF MUSIC & FILM
New York City’s music credentials speak for themselves. It's the birthplace of hip-hop, and the breeding ground for some of rock 'n' roll's greatest bands that cut their teeth, so to speak, inside storied venues like the East Village’s now-closed indie rock mecca CBGB. Performing at Madison Square Garden legitimizes a recording artist’s superstar status. There's even a citywide theme song written and sung by the almighty Frank Sinatra, appropriately titled "New York, New York."
It’s no wonder, then, why the Tribeca Film Festival has been a go-to event for music lovers since the New York institution’s 2002 debut. In recent years, the fest’s knack for presenting the best in cinematic/musical marriages has been front-page news. The 2011 edition of TFF opened with the Elton John documentary The Union, directed by Academy Award winner Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire), prefacing a live performance. In 2013, the festival’s opening night film was Mistaken for Strangers, a documentary about the Ohio indie rock band The National, and last year’s TFF kicked off with a historic night for rap fans, starting with the premiere of the Nas doc Time is Illmatic and culminating with the Queensbridge MC performing his classic 1994 debut, Illmatic, in its entirety.
Heading into this year’s festival, TFF’s programmers asked themselves, "How do you top a momentous 10th anniversary celebration for one of best rap albums ever recorded?" Their answer was simple: make that Illmatic blowout seem as basic as a little kid using his or her Walkman.
The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival will be a music fan's playground, beginning with a special Ludacris concert after the opening night premiere of the Saturday Night Live documentary Live from New York! and continuing with multiple live performances, several hard-hitting documentaries about music artists both famous and obscure, and a royal evening with a music industry queen.
We've made navigating through it all as easy as scrolling down. Here are all of the festival’s music-driven attractions.
Live From New York!, with Ludacris
Director: Bao Nguyen
Before the festival kicks into full gear, the East will meet the South inside the Beacon Theater. On Wednesday, April 15, TFF will open with the world premiere of Live From New York!, a comprehensive and, naturally, hilarious documentary look into the 40-year history of Saturday Night Live, that NYC institution that’s given us superstar performers like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Tina Fey. Directed by Tribeca Sloan Filmmaker Award winner Bao Nguyen, Live From New York! examines how the legendary sketch comedy show has influenced everything from politics to Hollywood.
And because an evening spent with folks like Beldar Conehead, Wayne Algar, the Blues Brothers, and Debbie Downer just isn’t enough, Live From New York!’s premiere will be followed by a live 30-minute performance from Ludacris, the Atlanta-proud rapper extraordinaire who’s currently dominated worldwide box offices as one of the gargantuan hit Furious 7’s stars.
Music has always been just as crucial for SNL’s legacy as its comedy—receiving the call to appear inside NBC’s headquarters is a rite of passage for all music industry stars. Luda has received that call three times, twice to perform and once to host. So who better to honor Lorne Michaels’ iconic brainchild than Mr. “Southern Hospitality”? Buy tickets here.
Mary J. Blige - The London Sessions
Director: Sam Wrench
With each passing year, the Tribeca Film Festival has grown more and more into the place where NYC hip-hop lives—at least for two weeks every April. Nas owned the Beacon Theater in 2014 with a track-by-track performance of Illmatic, following the world premiere of the doc Time is Illmatic. Once again bringing a legend to the Beacon, this year’s TFF will drop Nasty Nas' hardcore boom-bap in favor of heartbreaking emotion.
Mary J. Blige, a.k.a. the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul," will take over the Beacon Theater on Thursday April 16, for the unveiling of Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions, a 45-minute documentary showing the singer making her new album in England, and, appropriately, some of the UK's best soul artists, including electro producers Disclosure and young Blige disciple Emelie Sandé, to provide assistance. If you think listening to Blige solo can be emotionally grueling, wait until you see her trade one emotive croon after another with Sam Smith, pop music’s current heart-tugger extraordinaire. Kleenex packets are recommended.
Immediately after the film, Blige will deliver her timeless brand of overpowering musical emotion live with a one-time only concert. Not even the best World Dramatic films in the festival can stand up against Blige's classic 1994 record, My Life, so imagine how raw a career-spanning MJB performance will get. This special screening is in partnership with American Express® and a Card Member Exclusive. Buy tickets here.
If Frank Sinatra were still alive today, he’d be anticipating his 100th birthday this December, which, indeed, is truly remarkable. Ol' Blue Eyes is the type of celebrity who defies age—he’ll always be that suave, dapper-looking crooner with those killer good looks, those simultaneously luminous and piercing pupils, and that silky-smooth voice that turns any function into a grown and sexy affair. Sinatra’s influence will be as omnipresent and important in another 100 years as it was back in his prime and is today.
As if recording timeless albums wasn’t enough, Sinatra was also an Oscar-nominated movie star. He’s the ultimate example of an actor/musician, so it’s only right that this year’s TFF will honor the legend’s centennial with "Sinatra at 100: Film and Music in collaboration with Lincoln Motor Company," a two-day celebration with emphases on both the Chairman of the Board's cinematic and musical excellence. In regards to the former, three of Sinatra’s classic films will screen: the newly digitally restored On the Town (1949) on Tuesday, April 21, and both Some Came Running (1958) and High Society (1956) on Friday, April 24.
The main Sinatra-themed attraction, however, will be the epic concert that'll follow the April 21st screening of On the Town. An ensemble of top-of-the-line talent will occupy Spring Studios to cover Sinatra’s most treasured songs, a lineup of Sinatra-inspired artists made up of: fellow legend Tony Bennett, R&B superstar Ne-Yo, The Killers' singer Brandon Flowers, esteemed dancer/choreographer Savion Glover, comedian/jazz musician Lea DeLaria (a.k.a. Big Boo on Orange is the New Black), singer/songwriter Alice Smith, and bandleader JC Hopkins and his 12-piece JC Hopkins Biggish Band.
How's that for a birth-year party?
Photo by Daniel Arsham
CRWN: A$AP Rocky, at Spring Studios
It’s a case of the old guard sitting down with the new, remixed with a heavy dose of "Purple Swag." On Tuesday, April 21, Harlem's current king of stylish rap, A$AP Rocky, will sit down with O.G. hip-hop journalist Elliott Wilson for the latest edition of the latter’s CRWN, a James-Lipton-esque interview series that has previously welcomed Billboard champs like Drake, Nicki Minaj, and T.I.
Fittingly, Wilson’s Tribeca Film Festival debut is New York City, all the way through. Though his music is unsubtly influenced by Southern-fried, chopped-and-screwed hip-hop, A$AP Rocky’s the best and most charismatic young rapper to emerge from the NYC scene since 50 Cent.
With his no-holds-barred interview approach, Wilson will dig into the 26-year-old MC’s days growing up in Harlem, hustling his early mixtapes all throughout the Big Apple, aligning himself with like-minded friends to form the A$AP Mob, and positioning himself to be the kind of multidimensional rapper who has Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and fashion designer Jeremy Scott on speed-dial.
Badge holder exclusive event. To attend, you'll need either a Hudson or a Spring Pass.
Director: Ted Wilde
Here’s something so cool and crazy that it could only happen at the Tribeca Film Festival. Not to mention, it's that rare thing that'll unite young hip-hop heads with their 80-plus-year-old grandparents.
In its original form, the 1928 silent film Speedy is, of course, a muted affair, but it’s also hilarious and nicely light-hearted. Silent era star Harold Lloyd plays a well-meaning sad sack who’s forever searching for a job and who adores the New York Yankees—meaning, sadly, that he’s not unlike so many people living in the city today. There’s one difference between Lloyd's character and today’s unemployed youth: he loves horse-drawn trolleys (read: the Prohibition Era's taxi) and vows to rescue the last one from extinction. Also, he spends time with Babe Ruth, and who wouldn’t want to do that?
This month, Lloyd will also connect with present-day DJ/producer DJ Z-Trip, and therein lies the best thing about TFF’s presentation of the Criterion Collection's newly restored digital print of Speedy. Instead of silence, Speedy will be accompanied by live music created and played live by Z-Trip inside Spring Studios, on Wednesday, April 22. Your grandpa will nod his head as if he’s listening to Hot 97.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Director: Brett Morgen
How much do you really know about the late, great Kurt Cobain? We all know the bullet-point facts: he was arguably the biggest and most influential rock star of the 1990s, the frontman for Seattle grunge rock gods Nirvana, Courtney Love’s husband, and the cautionary tale whose hatred of fame led to his 1994 suicide, when he was only 27 years old. He was the voice of a generation; to many, though, that’s all he’s always been: a voice.
But that's about to change. The first official documentary sanctioned by his estate, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck offers an opened-closet look at the singer/songwriter through home movies and other previously withheld personal artifacts paired alongside fresh interviews with his Nirvana bandmates, Love, and Cobain's parents. The film's big draw is its use of Cobain’s diary entries and hand-drawn sketches to convey his innermost thoughts—think of Montage of Heck as a visual autobiography of sorts. Director Brett Morgen's all-access film traces Cobain's life back to his childhood, covering everything from his first sexual experience to being a high-school student obsessed with punk rock.
Following the film's TFF screening on Sunday, April 17, at Spring Studios, Rolling Stone reporter Neil Strauss will sit down with Courtney Love and Brett Morgen to discuss Montage of Heck’s subject's life and tragic legacy even deeper. By the evening’s end, you’ll finally know the real Kurt Cobain.
As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM
Director: Kevin Kerslake
One quick flip through the latest Billboard issue or an hour spent watching MTV Hits is all the proof you’ll need—these days, DJs dominate the music industry. Whether they’re earning millions of dollars touring around the globe or releasing albums adorned with A-list guests, internationally known DJs/producers like Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, Alesso, and David Guetta are influencing the trends and smashing radio playlists. It’s the disc jockey's world, and we’re all just partying in it.
Now it’s time to get to know the man who could have been king. In the documentary As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM, which will world premiere at TFF on Friday, April 17, music video director Kevin Kerslake delves into the tragic story of Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein, your favorite celebrity’s favorite DJ who died from a drug overdose in 2009, at the age of 36. Before his untimely passing, Goldstein moved through the music world with his own kind of VIP pass, popularizing the mashup musical sub-genre while developing close bonds with people like Mark Ronson, Steve Aoki, and Diplo, all of whom have catapulted to superstardom in the years since Goldstein’s death.
He was one of the DJ scene's original gatekeepers, yet Goldstein also battled through addictions, a troubled upbringing, and the mental repercussions stemming from the 2008 plane crash that seriously injured both him and friend Travis Barker and left several of their friends dead. Featuring firsthand insight from some of Goldstein’s good friends, including filmmaker Jon Favreau, Samantha Ronson, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, As I AM is the long-overdue ode to a would-be titan who never had the chance to claim his throne.
In My Father’s House
Directors: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
Depending on who you ask, Kanye West’s hit single "Jesus Walks" wouldn’t exist without Che "Rhymefest" Smith—or at least not in the form we all know it, as one of the defining records of West's early, breaking-into-the-mainstream days. Smith co-wrote the track with his fellow Chicago-bred rapper friend, and the buzz from "Jesus Walks" helped Smith forge his own path in the hip-hop community, though much more within the underground than The Man Who Would Become Yeezus.
That’s Rhymefest's popular origin story, but it's not his most personal one. For that, there’s the new documentary In My Father’s Shoes, a deeply intimate look at how the rapper's decision to purchase his old childhood home led him to discover newfound truths about his father, a homeless alcoholic who left the young Smith’s life 20 years earlier.
Filmed on location in Chicago's South Side, and peppered with home movie footage and Smith family photographs, In My Father’s House tackles a subject that’s been a recurring theme throughout rap music’s history: the importance of fatherhood when it comes to black youngsters growing up in inner cities. One can imagine Smith's old pal Kanye watching it and then clutching little North West a bit tighter.
Song of Lahore
Directors: Andy Schocken, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Everyone loves a good underdog story, but music fans? As evidenced by the huge ratings for competition shows like The Voice and American Idol, they really love an underdog.
Well, Kelly Clarkson and Philip Philips have nothing on the members of Sachal Studios, the musical collective at the heart of the new documentary Song of Lahore. Hailing from the Pakistani city of Lahore, the Sachal Studios musicians are incredibly resilient and determined, struggling to get their sounds heard following the Islamization of Pakistan in the 1970s, and all of the hardships and restrictions that came from that. They’d kill for be on Pakistani Idol but have to settle for living The Fate.
As Song of Lahore captures, though, Sachal Studios caught a huge stroke of luck after recording a cover of the late American composer Dave Brubek’s "Take Five," which gained an unexpected fan in stateside musical powerhouse Wynton Marsalis. An instant fan of Sachal Studios’ "Take Five" rendition, Marsalis invited the group to perform at New York City’s Lincoln Center, where Marsalis regularly makes dreams come true as the Artistic Director. In the uplifting Song of Lahore, he’s basically Simon Cowell, thankfully without the cold-blooded insults.
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
Director: Jeanie Finlay
Full disclosure: this one’s better suited for people fascinated by oddball stories than music aficionados. Not that Spotify junkies won’t appreciate it—some tales are so wonderfully bizarre that they transcend one’s personal interests and boundaries.
And the case of mistaken identity that anchors the documentary Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is bizarre times ten. Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay's see-it-to-believe-it movie heads back to 1979 to follow the enigmatic Orion, a singer whose impressive vocal chops sounded uncannily like those of Elvis Presley. The masked singer released 11 albums and had a fruitful career, yet people didn’t care much about Orion the man—they listened to his music to keep numbing the pain caused by Elvis’ death in 1977.
Picture a world where Oreo cookies suddenly disappear, leaving snack fanatics to eat nothing but Hydrox cookies—that’s essentially what happened to the Elvis die-hards who inevitably became Orion fans. Orion: The Man Who Would Be King exists firmly in the "Stranger Than Fiction" side of documentary filmmaking.