Sometimes a film’s topic is enough incentive for Don't Knock the Rock film festival co-curator Tiffany Anders.
That’s certainly true of “Korla,” one of the most intriguing selections of this year’s annual event, which celebrates new music documentaries. The late artist Korla Pandit’s story, in fact, seems stranger than fiction.
As described in the festival's program notes, “He never spoke a word on 900 episodes of his groundbreaking 1950s TV program but captured the hearts of countless Los Angeles housewives with his soulful, hypnotic gaze and theatrical performance of popular tunes and East Indian compositions on the newly developed Hammond B3 organ."
Who’s got the popcorn?
“When these things come to us, I get so excited that people have made films on such cool subject matter,” Anders said during a recent conversation.
She wasn’t exaggerating. Each year the festival, which is running every Thursday through the end of August at Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, brings important work that doesn’t stand a chance in the mass-market movie business. Over the years Don't Knock the Rock has screened essential titles including “Searching for Sugar Man,” “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” “MC5: A True Testimonial," the Beatles-related documentary "Good Ol' Freda" and dozens of others.
Anders and her mother, the director Allison Anders ("Gas, Food, Lodging," "Grace of My Heart"), have been organizing the festival at Cinefamily since 2008, so they know their way around the rock doc scene. This year, though, Allison has been on location in New York, so Tiffany has been doing much of the prep work. “Everything’s been a mad dash,” Tiffany Anders said. Not that you'd know by looking.
A few weeks ago the series opened with “A Poem Is a Naked Person,” an acclaimed documentary on rock pianist Leon Russell directed by Les Blank. On Thursday night, “Rye Coalition: The Story of the Hard Luck Five,” will trace the history of the underground New Jersey post-hardcore group.
Other upcoming features include “Her Aim Is True,” which highlights the work of Northwest fashion and rock photographer Jini Dellaccio (Aug. 20). “Danny Says” (Aug. 27) celebrates proto-punk legend Danny Fields, who managed the Ramones, the Stooges and MC5. Texas singer and songwriter Doug Sahm is the subject of “Sir Doug and Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” (July 30); and “Michael Des Barres: Who Do You Want Me to Be?” (Aug. 13) explores the amazing life of the Los Angeles actor and rock 'n' roll fixture (who also happens to be the longtime Don’t Knock the Rock master of ceremonies).
Anders, who works as a music supervisor, said she’s particularly thrilled to facilitate the kind of discovery she experiences on a regular basis as co-curator. “I didn’t know too much about [Sahm], but of course I was a fan of his music. That’s the great thing about doing the festival is that you learn. Doug Sahm was one of them, and Korla Pandit was another, who I knew nothing of his story. They're both really fascinating.”
She describes Sahm’s saga as “definitely a rock musician’s tale, living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle and getting involved in vices and all sorts of crazy lifestyle choices.” Like the subject of the Leon Russell documentary, Sahm, best known for founding the Sir Douglas Quintet, was an outlier who captured the spirit of the times, someone who “came about in the time of rock 'n' roll, the hippie thing and psychedelia happening, and brought those elements into their roots in country music.”
“Korla,” which will be screened Aug. 6, stunned Anders to the extent that she’s wary of revealing too much about the film. “All I can say is that he has a very, very fascinating story, and when the reveal happens, it’s one of these moments where you can’t believe it.”
Photographer Dellaccio of “Her Aim Is True” started as a fashion photographer in the Pacific Northwest before shooting musicians including the Shangri-Las, the Sonics, the Who and others. (Also on Aug. 20, the musician and director Naomi Yang, formerly of Galaxie 500, will screen a short film, and she and her partner in the duo Damon & Naomi will perform the score live.)
This season is just beginning, but Anders is already facilitating future projects that might land at the festival. These include a documentary on Washington rock band Karp and another on the British post-punk group the Slits.
“I’m doing whatever I can to help because I want to see that movie,” she said of the Slits film. “It’s very exciting when people take on these kinds of projects because it’s not easy to do and it really does come from a place of true love and admiration.”
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit