Music and movies played together even before sound revolutionised film during its infancy, and so it is at the Tribeca Film Festival where the documentary lineup is heavy on musical subjects, from hip hop star Nas to shock rocker Alice Cooper.
From the days of silent films, often accompanied by live keyboards, to lavish mid-century MGM musicals, music has held a spotlight throughout cinema history.
And while documentaries have traditionally comprised as much as half of Tribeca’s scores of offerings, films about musicians Bjork, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, James Brown and others have lent this year’s festival a decidedly tuneful air.
“We never programme to an agenda,” said Tribeca’s director of programming, Genna Terranova. “These trends sort of reveal themselves, and this year that trend definitely seems to be music.”
Several of the music documentaries will be augmented by live performances from the artists profiled in the films.
“It brings a great energy to the festival,” Terranova said, adding that it offers something new and different for the audience.
Highlighting music’s starring role this year is Time Is Illmatic, a look at the early life and music career of American hip-hop artist Nas and the making of the groundbreaking album Illmatic in 1994.
The rapper proclaimed “Thank you, Tribeca” as he took to the Beacon Theater stage on Wednesday for a post-screening concert, joined by Alicia Keys and kicking off with N.Y. State of Mind before performing the rest of Illmatic. Terranova said the live performances could serve as an entry point especially for younger audiences to experience a documentary for the first time. The slate of films encompasses a wide range of both musical and filmmaking styles, which Terranova said was intentional.
At a far remove from the world of hip hop, The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir chronicles the journey of the rhythm guitarist for The Grateful Dead, one of the most enduring groups of all time whose devoted fans are legion.
Weir, 66, will speak and perform at the April 23 premiere.
A slate of top musicians will also take to the stage after Keep On Keepin’ On, about the relationship between trumpeting legend Clark Terry, a mentor to stars such as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, and 23-year-old blind piano player Justin Kauflin.
Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove and Kauflin will perform after the April 19 screening.
Icelandic singer and actress Bjork is not slated to sing but she will appear at the April 26 screening of Bjork: Biophilia Live, which chronicles a concert centered on her eighth studio album.
Featuring Bjork live in performance, punctuated by animation from apps created by top designers combined with science- and nature-based footage, the film explores the relationships between musical structures and natural phenomena.
The premiere of Canadian documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper also boasts an appearance by its subject, the preacher’s son who morphed into a 1970s hard rocker whose gory, theatrical performances forged his identity as a glam metal icon.
The film tells the story of the man behind the makeup, “peeling back the layers of a fascinating guy,” Terranova said.
In other offerings, Mike Myers makes his directorial debut with Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, about the legendary Hollywood talent manager, while a still-untitled James Brown documentary, being made with the cooperation of Brown’s estate, will be screened on the festival’s closing day.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs through April 27.