Every year, Portland's Northwest Film Center presents the Reel Music Festival, an ode to rockumentaries, biopics, music videos, and some of the most anticipated and captivating new music-focused films. There's always a local hook or three, but this year's is particularly compelling: the opening night film will be Heaven Adores You, an intimate portrait of Elliott Smith, and the festival also includes Portland director Beth Harrington's long-in-the-making Carter family documentary, with one of the final interviews with Johnny Cash.
The lineup boasts over 20 films. We've put together our shortlist of the top four. Tickets are cheap, at most $9, so snag a pair online or at the door.
HEAVEN ADORES YOU
Heaven Adores You
October 10 & 12
Whitsell Auditorium Elliott Smith’s shadow has hung over Portland ever since his tragic death in 2003. The enigmatic folk singer has survived through tribute concerts, memorials, retrospectives, and now a new documentary, Heaven Adores You. Due in part to the sometimes vitriolic controversy surrounding his death—some still believe that Smith’s suicide, two stab wounds to the chest, was a homicide—many of those close to Smith have refused to do interviews. Heaven Adores You breaks the silence, as director Nickolas Rossi, with the help of music producer Kevin Moyer, persuaded a handful of Smith’s family and friends—sister Ashley Smith, Heatmiser bandmates Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, and producer Rob Schnapf, amongst many others—to share their memories. The film also unearthed a handful of unreleased songs and rare performance footage. Read our story about it.
THE WINDING STREAM
The Winding Stream
Whitsell Auditorium For nearly two decades, a cross-generational crop of the Carter family created some of the most influential American roots music. Plainly put, the Carters are about as important to American music culture as the Beatles. Portland-based filmmaker Beth Harrington set out to tell the lost tale of the Carters, from founding father A.P. Carter to the most famous grandson-in-law, Johnny Cash. The Winding Stream actually features one of the last interviews done with the late country icon, just weeks before his death in 2003. The film follows the family from their humble Virginia roots to international fame, and their decade-stretched influence.
TIME IS ILLMATIC
Time Is Illmatic
Whitsell Auditorium Nas’s entire 23-year career is defined by his seminal debut, Illmatic. Immediately deemed a classic by critics, the 1994 release introduced the baby-faced poet laureate of Queensbridge: a wide-eyed wordsmith weaving intricate street narratives through heavy, sample-laden production. As one of hip-hop’s most storied works, Illmatic has been honored time and again, but Time Is Illmatic does something completely different than honor: it offers an urban ethnography. Director One9 and writer Erik Parker (a former music editor at Vibe and The Source) have been working on Time Is Illmatic since the early 2000s, with the original intention of releasing the film on the album’s tenth anniversary. But with limited time and funds the duo decided to extend their documentary another decade, carefully crafting a meticulous depiction of Queens and its most notably street scribe, Nasir Jones.
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
Great Britain, 2014
20,000 Days On Earth
Whitsell Auditorium Australian-born shadow-rock singer, writer, and occasional actor Nick Cave is enigmatic, if anything. He’s intense and evasive in character and rich and daunting in music. By the looks of it, his recent documentary (or meta-biopic) is just as eccentric as the man himself. 20,000 Days On Earth stars Nick Cave as Nick Cave as he lives a fictional day in his life. Scenes are staged but not scripted and interspersed between real footage of his and the Bad Seeds’ rehearsals and performances. Produced by British filmmaking duo Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, 20,000 Days On Earth already nabbed Best Director at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.