Saturday, September 26, 2009

Programmer Rick Hansen talks Sound Unseen 10

Fall inevitably means better offerings in the theaters and right now you don't have to look far to find interesting film choices in the Twin Cities. But next week the 10th edition of Minneapolis' own Sound Unseen kicks off and will far outweigh the other distractions in town. Half music, half film and all fun, Sound Unseen starts Monday with nothing other than Rock n' Bowl at Memory Lanes. It's your chance to get a team together and show your skills against local bands such as Switzerlind, Magic Castles, Total Babe, Lucy Michelle and The Velvet Lapelles, So It Goes, Poor Weather Club, Look Book, Communist Daughter and more. What follows is six days of films, music and parties hosted at various venues around town (Cedar Cultural Center, The Trylon, Oak Street, Walker Art Center, Kitty Cat Club and MacPhail Center for Music) that is sure to sooth any culture vulture's soul.

I will probably find myself sitting in a theater all day, living off soda, popcorn and candy and maybe even burning some midnight oil in order to catch some of these films. (I can't really miss a midnight screening of a documentary about black metal, now can I?) Presenting 11 features and two shorts programs, the films are as thematically diverse as they are stylistically divergent. Although most festivals are likely to boast about the variety of their films, Sound Unseen takes a narrow range—film connected to music—and explores the far reaches of that definition. Beyond the obvious entertainment value, as a voracious music consumer I look forward to learning about artists I know nothing about, specifically Trimpin (Friday, October 2, 7pm at the Trylon) and Ed Thigpen (Sunday, October 4, 1pm at the Oak Street.)

For the inside scoop, program coordinator and ultimate Sound Unseen insider Rick Hansen was kind enough to answer a few questions of this inquiring mind to share with other inquiring minds:

Q: How long have you been programming for Sound Unseen?

A: This is my second year as Director of the festival, but I've had involvement almost right from the beginning.

Do you coordinate the live music as well as the movies?

I've got an outstanding (predominately) volunteer staff who help me with each aspect of the festival. It's strange how things happen, as sometimes it's me who gets excited to book a band or a film, and other times staff members like Music Coordinator Karrie Vrabel gets things going, or Director of Programming Jim Brunzell sees a cool film at Sundance or Seattle, of maybe SU fest producer Vilay Dethluxay has a great angle on something fun...we all just kind of coalesce into one big good idea after another, then everyone takes responsibility for that idea's execution. That's a long answer to a simple question, so yes, I do coordinate all aspects of the festival, but it's not without the help and the bright ideas of the others around me.

There are a couple big buzz films in the line-up, specifically the world premier of R.E.M: This is Not a Show (Tuesday, September 29, 7pm at the Cedar) and the local premier of Ondi Timoner's We Live in Public (Sunday, October 4, 7:30pm at the Cedar). Was there a lot of blood, sweat and tears getting these two lined up?

This is a fun question, because it has a funny answer...One of the films you mentioned was the easiest booking we ever had and the other has been the hardest. I'll let you wonder which one was which!

I can safely tell you though that each of the films and events takes a great deal of research, persistence, luck, and flat out hustle to get into the line-up. Jim Brunzell and Steve Holmgren, our two film programmers this year, have literally trotted the globe to see films for the festival. I went to Berlinale this year, saw a number of films that I wanted and came back entirely empty handed as far as film titles that landed in the fest. I've been clocking a film that I absolutely must have for more than 2 years now...still not sure if I will get it. Not everything is that tough, but we've got our film feelers out at spots around the world.

I've been pouring over the synopses of all the films trying to prioritize. Can you give us some of the highlights of the more under-the-radar films that you've chosen?

For sure. Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench (Saturday, October 3, 6:45pm at the Trylon) is probably my personal favorite. It just absolutely represents the type of filmmaking I enjoy most. Simple, beautiful, smart, elegant, quiet with very unique execution. I'm not the only person to think that way either. Amy Taubin wrote a glowing review of the film in Film Comment, and the film screened at the very prestigious Tribeca Film Fest earlier this year.

I also love Non-Stop: Gogol Bordello (Sunday, October 4, 3pm at the Cedar) because it really gives you insight into this great band's mojo. I love them and their live show is a mind blower, and the film does an excellent job capturing that. Plus a bunch of the live shots were taken when they were at The Cabooze outdoor stage a couple of years back, so it's fun to recognize a local place in an international film.

Stingray Sam (Friday, October 2, 9:30pm at the Oak Street) is another of my favorites. Mostly because I love the way Cory McAbee, who will be present for almost the entire extent of the fest and accepting an award from us, makes films. His way. Period. And really well. Easily the most innovative and interesting filmmakers in America today. Plus it makes me laugh EVERY time I see a man get slapped in the face by another man.

The subject matter of the films are all over the map. The narratives and documentaries touch upon almost every corner of the musical universe! Is it your intention to keep it diverse or do things just sort of fall in place that way?

We want to cover that wide range, always. But the range changes from year to year depending on what's out there and what's available and compelling. We've made it our mission to always try to come in with some things that we know are unique and may not be the most familiar or even comfortable types of musical styles, but we think it's important to screen these types of films for all the right reasons. For this year's fest I've made the joke that we've got titles from Beethoven to Black Metal. We got a little Jazz push this year, because I'm personally very into what is going on with that on the the local music level. I genuinely believe that there are Jazz musicians in town who are completely and totally pushing the bounds of that music genre into some incredible new places...and the world is going to find out about our scene here very soon.

How did Sound Unseen start? What's some of the folklore?!

10 years ago a very smart and hard working young man named Nate Johnson founded the festival. He and I worked together a bit at U Film Society. He approached me about maybe co-producing it even way back then..I ended up going in a different direction, but Nate got it off to an incredible start with some really great programming and smart events. I looked back really closely to our history as it is our 10 year anniversary and I wanted to understand where we've been and I could not believe some of the things I missed. Name anyone of the now Major Label bands that have risen out of Minneapolis and they have been on the Sound Unseen roster in one way shape or form. No joke..Atmosphere, Tapes N Tapes, Solid Gold, DOSH, Doomtree, what used to be Lifter Puller...I could go on and on..all had some sort of relationship with Sound Unseen. 10 years at the heart of the Minneapolis music scene! Are you kidding me? Legends were born in SU's past. That's folklore.

Okay, so I have to ask: can you give us any other hints on the secret screening other than the two letters M and J?

(coyly) mmnn..i don't know..? MICHAEL JACKSON! ...or something...and you ain't seen it before.

As in "like you've never seen him before".....? I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Check out the full program and events to map out your week at I'll see you there!


joetron2030 said...

Oh, man! I'm tempted to catch "Until the Light Takes Us", too, now!

Can you buy tickets at the door?

Kathie Smith said...

I'm sure you are safe in getting tickets at the door, but I will keep my ear to the ground and let you know if that changes. We gotta go! It can't go any later than that Wolves in the Throne Room show!

joetron2030 said...

OK. I'm in.

Kathie Smith said...


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