Now in its fourth year--and taking place at venues around town from Thursday, Oct. 9, through Sunday, Oct. 12--the festival grew out of the idea to make the most of the debut screening of the film High and Dry, Michael Toubassi's terrific documentary on the Tucson music scene from the late 1970s through 2000.
Toubassi, a 1995 UA graduate who has lived in Los Angeles since 1999, is the co-founder of the L.A.-based production company Upstairs Films. High and Dry enjoyed its world premiere over Labor Day weekend in 2005, as part of Club Congress' 20th Anniversary celebration. It was a case of fortunate timing: Since many of the bands in the film were already slated to play (including several who reunited for the occasion), the film's debut was folded into the anniversary event.
The High and Dry screening pulled a huge crowd and was one of the highlights of the weekend--"like a rock 'n' roll high school reunion," Toubassi says.
Toubassi started plotting a larger Southwest-themed film festival that also incorporated live music. Over the next two years, the Tucson Film Festival mutated into the Tucson Film and Music Festival (TFMF) and was part of the now-annual Club Congress Labor Day party, currently dubbed the HoCo Festival.
But this year, for the first time, the TFMF has its own stand-alone weekend, separate from the HoCo Festival. It features film screenings and live music at several local venues, including the Loft, the Screening Room, Plush, the Berger Performing Arts Center and the Rialto Theatre. The mandate of the TFMF is to feature films and videos that have some Arizona or Southwest aspect; if there is local or regional music involved, all the better.
This year's festival has at least one feature film that speaks directly to locals: Slide Guitar Ride, German filmmaker Bernd Schoch's new film on local legend Bob Log III, has its U.S. premiere on Friday, Oct. 10, at the Screening Room. Although notorious one-man band Bob Log now lives in Australia, he has been one of Tucson's most visible musical ambassadors for many years, both as a solo act and with Doo Rag and Mondo Guano. As far as local color goes, Bob Log is about as bright as it gets.
Opening night, Thursday, Oct. 9, features a screening of Throw Down Your Heart, Sascha Paladino's documentary on legendary banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck. The film, which plays at Berger, documents Fleck's journey to Africa to explore the roots of the banjo and to record an album, and includes footage from Uganda, Gambia, Tanzania and Mali. Toubassi has a special affinity for the film, because he helped bring Fleck to the UA in 1992.
The TFMF centerpiece film is Don DiNicola's Nowhere Now: The Ballad of Joshua Tree, which screens at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Screening Room. Nowhere Now documents the eclectic music scene in and around Joshua Tree, Calif., and includes performers Victoria Williams, Eric Burdon and the late Gram Parsons. DiNicola will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening, and a pair of acts featured in Nowhere Now will be performing over the weekend: The Sibleys play at Plush on Friday night, while Gram Rabbit will play there Saturday night.
There are also two different programs of short films and videos playing at the Screening Room on Saturday afternoon, with filmmaker Q&As afterward.
Sunday brings more short films, some features and a bunch of music videos during the day at the Screening Room, as well as several features at the Rialto. Again, these screenings are backed up by Q&As with visiting filmmakers--more than 30 in all. Look for music videos from Tucson acts the Mission Creeps and Jose Saavedra, plus videos from numerous relative unknowns and a few high profile acts, like Radiohead and Interpol.
The final TFMF film, Nerdcore for Life, screens at the Loft Sunday night, followed by a closing-night party at Plush. Nerdcore for Life documents the hip-hop subgenre nerdcore, which is basically geeky rappers; those in the film include MC Chris, MC Lars, ytcracker, Doc Popular and many more. Several of the nerdcore artists profiled will perform at Plush following the film.
Several other feature-length films are spread around the weekend, including Adventures of Power, Anvil! The Story of Anvil and Full Moon Lightning.
Other musical acts include Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, Dave Vandervelde and Judgement Day, all playing on Friday, and Bang Camaro, Electroshockbox and the Gold Brothers on Saturday. All music is at Plush.
Organizing all of this, of course, takes a tremendous amount of work while juggling other projects. (After all, Toubassi spent six years making High and Dry and spent part of the last two taking it to festivals in Toronto, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and all over the United States.)
In any case, why did Toubassi and his fellow organizers decide to separate TFMF from HoCo?
"The festival, along with its main sponsors, agreed it would be beneficial to move TFMF to our new Columbus Day weekend dates," Toubassi said. We realized the Labor Day weekend already has several other conflicting major film events at that time, and so it was in our best interest to move TFMF. We need the support of both filmmakers and sponsors to help raise the profile of film in Tucson with the festival."