Music, Movies, and the Cleveland International Film Festival

The 43rd Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) starts next week. The film festival, a personal favorite local event of mine, runs from March 27–April 7 in downtown Cleveland, OH. The festival has been a long-time supporter of music-related films. They host a Music Movies Competition, which boasts a strong selection of documentaries and narrative films every year.


"At the 30th CIFF we launched our Music Movies Sidebar, which has since grown into a grouping of some of our most popular films each Festival. For the sixth year in a row, we're happy to showcase these films even more and continue the Music Movies Competition. Comprised of documentaries and narratives, this competition is based on audience vote and awards the winner with a $7,500 cash prize, which will be announced at our Closing Night Ceremony."

I saw last year's winning film, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd (Stephen Kijak, 2018), with my dad. Some other favorites include: Basilicata Coast to Coast (Rocco Papaleo, 2010), Andrew Bird: Fever Year (Xan Aranda, 2011), and Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger, 2013). Fever Year essentially introduced me to Andrew Bird, who is now one of my all-time favorite musicians. I can't remember if I had heard of him before the film or if I picked the film simply because it was a music movie, but that's the beauty of art: Movies can acquaint you to new music, and vice versa. On the other hand, I already was a fan of The National when I saw Mistaken for Strangers, which I'm still not sure deconstructed or added to the mythos behind the band. Probably both. Or neither.

Music movies—distinctly different from musicals—are one of my favorite sub-genres in cinema outside of the film festival—from High Fidelity to Whiplash, Pirate Radio, Inside Llewyn Davis, That Thing You Do!, Sing Street, Begin Again, Almost Famous, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Hearts Beat Loud, Frank, Nashville, 24 Hour Party People, Stop Making Sense. There's rarely been a music movie I haven't liked. Sometimes the soundtracks are better than the film itself, like Crazy Heart, but they're always worth watching for the music.

This year's competing films at CIFF look particularly solid. I want to see pretty much all of them, but time is limited.

My Refuse-to-Miss Pick of CIFF 43: Echo in the Canyon (Andrew Slater, 2018), a documentary about the historic music scene in Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon, featuring the music of The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas. Jakob Dylan acts as interviewer for the film, which includes a conversation with the late Tom Petty. When I went to Cleveland's own Rock & Roll Hall of Fame late last year with fellow "She Said, She Said" contributor Chrissy, the exhibit on Los Angeles musicians spoke to me the most. I have a pretty keen ear for most of the major acts that came out of L.A. in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My all-time favorite band, Dawes, comes from L.A., so I know I can't miss this film.

My other top picks:

  • Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine (Scott Crawford, 2019): a documentary about rise and fall of the 70's–80's rock 'n' roll magazine

  • I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story (Jessica Leski, 2018): a documentary from women's perspectives about four generations of fandom (The Beatles, Take That, Backstreet Boys, and One Direction)

  • Leto (Kirill Serebrennikov, 2018): a Russian narrative film underground rock scene in 1980's Leningrad

  • Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson, 2019): a comprehensive crash course documentary on the life and career of the famous jazz trumpeter

There are seven more music movies in the competition, including a documentary about English singer-songwriter and GLOW cast member Kate Nash, as well as other narrative feature films from Israel, Kyrgyzstan, and the UK.

If you would like to know more about and/or read a review of one of the films listed above, let me know on’s Facebook or Instagram, and I'll feature the film when I return to "She Said, She Said" in April!

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