A Front-Row Seat into the Lives of Musicians

Each summer the population of Atlin, B.C. swells from its normal 400 to 2,500, as the Atlin Arts and Music Festival swings into gear for a weekend in mid-July. This year, the festival’s tenth anniversary, will be no exception.

The Yukon Film Society has scheduled free showings of music and arts-oriented films at the town’s historic Globe Theatre as an integral part of the festival.

An eclectic mix of films has been assembled for the occasion — from a long out-of-circulation documentary on music legend Stompin’ Tom Connors, to an Oscar-winning documentary about an obscure ’70s folk singer who became an idol in South Africa, to an inspired film about coming of age in a small town in the Northwest Territories.

Kicking off the screenings will be Across This Land With Stompin’ Tom Connors. Filmed in 1973 at Toronto’s famous Horseshoe Tavern and unavailable for many years, it’s a rousing tribute to the singer’s uniqueness, highlighting several nights’ performances of classics like “Bud The Spud,” “Sudbury Saturday Night” and “The Hockey Song.”

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is a new documentary, about a Memphis-based band who never achieved musical prominence, but whose three albums have been highly critically acclaimed.

“Big Star are the originators of power-pop music,” says Andy Connors of the Yukon Film Society. “It’s really cleanly-produced, guitar-driven rock and roll, with lots of hooks, a sort of shimmering guitar, with lots of vocal harmonies, and just great songwriting. They were a band that was destined for success in ’73, when their first record came out… but for some reason, the record sales just never happened for them, then they just kind of imploded in the late ’70s.”

Contemporary bands such as REM and Wilco have acknowledged Big Star as major influences on their work.

Searching For Sugar Man chronicles the amazing story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit folk singer who also had a short-lived recording career in the early ’70s that never really took off. Unbeknownst to him, his music flourished in South Africa, where his songs became anthems for the anti-apartheid movement.

The film traces the recent efforts of two fans to discover his whereabouts, despite rumours of his suicide.

Now, his career has been revived, and the film about him went on to win the Best Feature Documentary prize at this year’s Academy Awards.

Charles Bradley: Soul Of America documents the story of another Detroit-area musician, now in his early seventies, who earned a sporadic living doing impersonations of James Brown’s sizzling act. His original material later revived Bradley’s career.

Beauty Is Embarrassing is a documentary about American pop artist Wayne White, who was one of the creators of the TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The film follows the highs and lows of his career.

Fort Smith, NWT writer Richard Van Camp will be accompanying the film adaptation of his first novel, The Lesser Blessed in Atlin.

The film, directed by Anita Doiron, tells the story of Larry Sole, a young high school student in the NWT with some serious issues to deal with. He befriends Johnny Beck, a recent arrival from Hay River, who is idolized by male and female students alike.

“I think Kiowa Gordon from Twilight did a beautiful job with Johnny”, says Van Camp. “I can’t take my eyes off any of these actors. I’m really proud of everyone’s performances; there’s no weak link in any of them.”

When Johnny takes up with Juliet Hope, (Chloe Rose from Degrassi: The Next Generation) Larry and Johnny’s friendship becomes complicated because Larry has had a long-standing crush on Juliet.

Joel Evans, a recent high school graduate from Fort Smith who has no previous acting experience, plays Larry.

Van Camp says Evans was a fortuitous discovery.

“He didn’t even know we were auditioning for a major motion picture, and Anita Dorion and the casting agent were in Fort Smith,” Van Camp says. “We’d just finished auditioning five communities in six days, 120 kids, and just when they thought all was lost, he came around the corner, and they said ‘Get him!’ They just could tell that he just lit up the room… He’s our finest accomplishment, out of the whole operation.”

Van Camp sums up the film’s impact for him:

“It’s beautifully shot and perfectly cast. The soundtrack is gorgeous; we’re just so proud of it, and we want the world to see it properly.”

Richard Van Camp will field a Q & A session after the film’s screening.

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