Film + Interview : Xan Aranda Debuts with Andrew Bird Doc, Fever Year

If you went to an Andrew Bird show in 2009, you may or may not have been aware that he was plagued by a fever for much of his tour. You also might not have known that a documentary was in the works, following Andrew on his fever frenzy.

Making her full-length film directorial debut with “Fever Year,” Xan Aranda filmed what was Andrew Bird’s most rigorous touring schedule. “Fever Year” premiered at the prestigious New York Film Festival Lincoln Center on October 1, and has since screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.

Featuring live performances at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater with collaborators Martin Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Michael Lewis and Annie Clark of St. Vincent, the film follows the tour to its final show – a Chicago homecoming with Bird on crutches from a previous onstage injury.

[image title=”Andrew-Bird_Fever-Year-2_Credit-Aaron-Wickenden” size=”full” id=”24303″ align=”left” linkto=”full” ]
As is the case with any concert or music documentary, you have to wonder, is this film just for the rabid Andrew Bird fan? Would a casual fan, or even someone who’s never heard his music find a story here to sink their teeth into? I got a chance to ask Xan this and other questions.

[image title=”Xan-Aranda-by-Cameron-Wittig-Walker-Art-Museum” size=”full” id=”24287″ align=”left” linkto=”full” ]
MOKB : I actually had the chance to see his Indianapolis show at the Murat.

Xan Aranda : I love that you were there. I was there too, checking out lighting, etc.

There’s a scene in Fever Year shot backstage at the Murat – the band is goofing around, warming up before going on stage. It’s hard to describe, but something very Muppet-y happens. I shot that on my Blackberry. Doesn’t look great, but content trumps production quality, in this case.

MOKB : Is this film for super Andrew Bird fans only?

Aranda : Longtime fans will enjoy many little tasty treats in the film, including a very powerful live performance of “Headsoak” from The Swimming Hour. The casual viewer may enjoy learning more about where that crazy spinning horn comes from. Some folks might just hang in there to see Andrew end up on crutches for his final show of the year.

Just as the fever year snuck up on Andrew – he was a frog in hot water, adapting to his surroundings – I think the film sneaks up on the viewer. At first you think you’re settling in for a comfortable music film, by the time “Headsoak” rolls around you realize you’ve absorbed a lot of circumstance, cumulative feelings, subtle impressions.

MOKB : Are there any aspects of the film or scenes that really appeal to the casual or non-fan?

Aranda : To the casual fan, I would say it’s a chance to spend time with Andrew, learn more about his process than who he is. This film is for everyone. I believe that a well-made documentary should be able to hold the attention of any viewer, regardless of content. I tried to do that with Fever Year. People who’d been previously ambivalent about Andrew came to love his music after seeing Fever Year.

People also tend to enjoy what I call the “Indie-Rock Hotel Porn Scene” with Annie Clark. It’s just a rehearsal, very benign and straightforward, but watching those two sit on a hotel bed and practice a brand new song he’d written that week is pretty beautiful.

MOKB : You’re friends and long-time collaborators with Andrew Bird – how did that affect your filmmaking process?

Aranda : Yep, this is our fourth project together. I previously produced the Imitosis music video (stop-motion animation with little insects, in the style of a 1960s science film) and Lull video (adapted from Chicagoan Lisa Barcy’s beautifully vicious 17-minute film “Mermaid.”) I also paired several other short films with his music for live show projections for the Armchair Apocrypha tours.

I believe the proximity of our friendship, which began in 2002, brought a huge level of trust to the process. Andrew is an incredibly private person, which I respect deeply, so it was a challenge for him to be comfortable with cameras being around for anything off-stage. I kept a very low-key crew presence whenever possible and worked hard to keep him simultaneously comfortable AND open.

MOKB : What was Andrew’s response to the film?

Aranda : He wanted the concert captured so that it could stand in for him while he’s taking a much-needed break and working on a new record. Fever Year is like a time-capsule of the past ten years of his work – he’s evolving, so I think it’s hard to see a snapshot of that former incarnation committed to film. Beyond that, I don’t make a practice of communicating on his behalf.

MOKB : After getting your full length directorial debut under your belt with a subject so near and dear to you, what do you work on next?

Aranda : I’m actively shooting my next film, which I actually put on hold to make Fever Year. It’s another deeply personal project, called Mormons Make Movies. It’s inspired by two films my mother starred in while a student at Brigham Young University in the 1960s, as part of the Mormon church’s Motion Pictures Studio. MMM is about creativity, nature, ancestry, and religion. I left the faith fifteen years ago, so there’s a personal aspect to the film as well. The project is ripping my guts out a little, in a way that I like. Thrilling, challenging, humbling.

View the trailer:

Official Trailer (2:45) from Andrew Bird: Fever Year on Vimeo.

About the Filmmaker:
Xan Aranda, aside from having previously directed music videos for Andrew Bird, writes narrative films and serves as a consulting producer for the US Department of Education for their documentary projects.

Upcoming Screenings:
COLORADO PREMIERE – Denver Film Festival
November 5-6, 2011, Denver Film Center/Colfax

EUROPEAN PREMIERE – Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival
November 10, 2011
Xan Aranda, Angelo Valencia to attend

MISSOURI PREMIERE – St. Louis International Film Festival
November 19, 2011 at 8:30 PM, Webster University
Xan Aranda to attend

February 17, 2012
Xan Aranda to attend

Details can be found at

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Film : Urbanized + screening tonight at IMA

From Gary Hustwit, the filmmaker behind cult design documentaries “Objectified” and “Helvetica,” comes new film, “Urbanized.” The third and final film in his design trilogy, Urbanized explores the modern city (visiting locales as diverse as Detroit, Mumbai, Paris and many more) and just how many of us will be living in them. Currently, more than half of the world’s population lives in an urban area. By 2050, that percentage will increase to 75%.

During the sold out premiere of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, the audience erupted in applause throughout the screening. Gary mused in a recent blog post that he’s never seen that kind of response – festival crowds often clap after, but not during a film. But it’s no wonder this film had struck a chord – as urbanites increasingly embrace all things local, it re-ignites passion for the cities we call home and a desire to take part in shaping what they become. Since no one person owns the design of a city, the film questions who gets to take part in creating urban change and how do they do it?

According to his press reps, Gary is in the planning phase on a few projects, but nothing is ready to announce. With the design trilogy under wraps, it will be interesting to see what he tackles next. Some of you may know of Hustwit from label SST fame. He also produced several documentaries of note, including “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, the award-winning film about Wilco; “Moog”, the documentary about electronic music pioneer Robert Moog; and “Drive Well, Sleep Carefully”, a tour film following Death Cab for Cutie.

View the Urbanized trailer:

Upcoming screenings:
October 7 – Indianapolis IN, USA, The Toby, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Special Screening with Gary Hustwit and a free half-day summit on the design of Indianapolis.

October 9 – Chicago IL, USA, Music Box Theatre
Special Screening with director Gary Hustwit.

October 11 – Detroit MI, USA, The Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts
Special screening with director Gary Hustwit.

October 12 – Columbus OH, USA, Wexner Center for the Arts
Special Screening with director Gary Hustwit.

October 21 – London, UK, Sheikh Zayed Theatre, London School of Economics
Special Screening and post-film discussion with director Gary Hustwit and cast members Ricky Burdett (LSE Cities/Urban Age), Alejandro Aravena (architect, Elemental).

October 28 – New York NY, USA, IFC Center
NY theatrical run. Special events and cast appearances throughout opening weekend.

October 31 – Washington DC, USA, E-Street Cinema
Special screening with Gary Hustwit and special guests from the film.

November 3 – Philadelphia PA, USA
Drexel University, Mitchell Auditorium, Bossone Research Center, Special screening with director Gary Hustwit.

November 4 – Boston MA, USA, Museum of Fine Arts
Special screening with director Gary Hustwit

November 7 – Raleigh NC, USA
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Special Screening with director Gary Hustwit.

November 8 – Atlanta GA, USA, The Plaza Theatre
Special Screening with director Gary Hustwit and cast member Ellen Dunham-Jones.

Follow @MOKBFilm on twitter.

Film : 50/50 Gets Emotional

Consider this your SPOILER ALERT. You know exactly how “50/50” is going to end from the very beginning. The plot goes like this: impossibly young man gets a rare form of cancer, triumphs against his 50/50 odds and gets the girl in the end. Despite it’s predictability, there are some great moments along the way, carried largely on the back of a strong performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

It’s a pity he gets little help from his supporting cast. Anna Kendrick’s bottled up and inexperienced counselor persona is reminiscent enough of her “Up in the Air” character, I wondered if she’s playing herself. Seth Rogen plays the same role you’ve come to know him for – the witty and sarcastic, but loyal bro with a just-beneath-the-surface warm fuzziness. I could have overlooked his sameness (because he is dang good at it), if not for the cheap finding of a book that proves his true loyalty – a regurgitated trick from “Knocked Up.” It seems the easiest known vehicle to reveal his underbelly is for the object of Seth’s affections to find a book (in this case, a title about coping with a loved ones’ cancer) earmarked in his bathroom.

I will say this, it’s got a lot of laughs. But it certainly needs the qualifier. For a cancer movie. Selling it as a comedy doesn’t do the film any favors. The movie is at its best when it finally reckons with the gravity of the situation and lets the vulnerabilities of the characters develop. I confess, as much as I had a hard time with some of the script and acting, the movie got me. It took me for that lump-in-the-throat, emotional ride. It’s impossible to totally dismiss a film that can deliver me from glassy eyes to grateful for life. For that alone, it just might be worth catching.

Catch it in theaters September 30, 2011. Watch the trailer here:

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Film : Painted Palms in The Neighborhood

Now here’s a deliciously brilliant idea: a mini-documentary inserted into a music video. The folks at Yours Truly & Audyssey have it covered in The Neighborhood, a project that is equal parts music video and ode to place. Started in April of 2011 as a way to document events of the same name, the idea is to capture the musical spirit of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area on an intimate level.

To date, Yours Truly has captured 5 different band’s take on the South of Market neighborhood. In their most recent release, Secretly Canadian artists Painted Palms share their awe of the city and their take on creative partnerships, all layered over the electrically dreamy Big Balloon. How’s taking a walk around San Francisco with the boys of Painted Palms sound? See the episode here:

The Neighborhood: SOMA // Painted Palms from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

See the rest of the series:
The Soft Moon
Main Attrakionz
Nick Waterhouse

Yours Truly says we can expect one new release per month. They’re presently finalizing details for their next episode, which will reportedly feature a band who no longer lives in San Fran, but has strong roots there. Until then, you can get your groove on with some more Painted Palms and their soon to kick off tour with Calgary’s BRAIDS and Pepper Rabbit. You can order a copy of Painted Palms’ debut 12″, Canopy, here.

Painted Palms on Tour w/ BRAIDS & Pepper Rabbit

09/06/11 New York, NY – Mercury Lounge
09/07/11 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
09/08/11 Washington, DC – DC9
09/10/11 Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn
09/11/11 Birmingham, AL – Bottletree
09/12/11 Nashville, TN – The End
09/13/11 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
09/14/11 Ames, IA – Maintenance Shop
09/15/11 Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry
09/16/11 Winnipeg, MB – Royal Albert Arms
09/17/11 Regina, SK – The Exchange
09/20/11 Calgary, AB – Republik
09/28/11 Costa Mesa, CA – Detroit Bar
09/29/11 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
09/30/11 Phoenix, AZ – Sail Inn
10/02/11 El Paso, TX – Lowbrew Palace
10/04/11 Austin, TX – Mohawk
10/05/11 Dallas, TX – Club Dada
10/06/11 St. Louis, MO – Firebird
10/07/11 Bloomington, IN – The Bishop
10/08/11 Cleveland, OH – Beachland Bar
10/09/11 Detroit, MI – Magic Stick Lounge

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Free Film: Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?)

As a part of their upcoming Summerfest Promotion, the team over at SnagFilms, a library with over 2,000 films have released the stellar documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?) to watch for free for the next two weeks (starting 8/5/11.) Whether you’re a fan of his or even know his name or not, this is a must see documentary for any fan of music in general. From Nilsson’s somewhat mysterious, fatherless childhood to his meteoric ride to Grammy Award-winning fame with his vast and eclectic body of work, to his reclusive ways and infamous hard partying ala his “Lost Weekend” with John Lennon, to his later years as loving family man; Harry Nilsson very well might be one of the most fascinating singer-songwriters of the 20th century. Chock full of enthralling film footage of his astounding career and hilarious, titillating interviews with good friends such as Mickey Dolenz, Jimmy Webb and Robin Williams, there is never a dull moment in this well-rounded and thoroughly researched effort.

Watch Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?)

-Post by Miss Dolly Mod

Film : Newlyweds

For a movie with no official poster or trailer, Edward Burns’ “Newlyweds” is garnering the sort of buzz that would make many a blockbuster swoon. It isn’t just that the film was made for a scant $9,000 budget, or that the actors handled their own hair and wardrobe. After closing Tribeca Film Festival this spring, “Newlyweds” was just acquired by Tribeca Film for release later this year.

A Tribeca Film spokesperson told me that the details behind the release are still in the works, but what’s interesting is that they’re hinting that they will distribute the film across multiple platforms. No stranger to shaking up the traditional path, Edward Burns was the first filmmaker to bypass the theatrical distribution deal and debut his work commercially on iTunes with “Purple Violets.”

You can trade your email address for a glimpse at the first scene of the movie over at In the opening scene, two couples in very different places in their relationship share conversations over brunch about oral sex, practicalities in love and long-lost music careers. Think Woody Allen with a slightly harder edge, fewer tics and more feeling. If the rest of the script is as gritty and intimate as the first scene, this will be one heck of a movie. For now, mark it in my “can’t wait to see more” category.

[image title=”Still-Burns_Fitz-D487DF4″ size=”full” id=”22558″ align=”left” alt=”Caitlin FitzGerald and Edward Burns in “Newlyweds” distributed by Tribeca Film. Photo Credit: William Rexer.” linkto=”full” ]

Caitlin FitzGerald stars opposite Edward Burns in “Newlyweds” distributed by Tribeca Film. Photo Credit: William Rexer.

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Film : Just Like Being There

A documentary about gig posters? Count me in. With thousands of dollars left to raise for their production budget and no release date announced, we’ll all have to wait with bated breath for the newly-titled documentary, “Just Like Being There.”

Director Scout Shannon and Producer Johanna Goldstein give a sneak peek into the creative process of several artists from across the country as they make posters for bands. /Film says of the work in progress, “The aim is to open a window into this niche world and make audiences aware and excited about this kind of art, much in the way ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ ignited the world of street art.”

Well, you don’t have to twist our arms. MOKB can get excited about a documentary covering gig posters, no problem.

View the promo:

Just Like Being There (Promo) from Johanna Goldstein

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Film : Natural Selection

I didn’t expect to feel such great kinship with Linda. At the start of “Natural Selection,” she’s mousey. She seems weak. She wears mom jeans, and isn’t even a mom. Played with great skill by Rachael Harris, Linda is a barren, Christian housewife from Texas. Her conservatism runs so deep, she questions the morality of having sex with her own husband.

Her very sheltered world is rocked by the discovery that her husband has secretly visited a sperm bank for years, enjoying some porn along the way. A mid-donation stroke lets the cat out of the bag, and Linda sets out to find the one known offspring of her husband’s secret endeavors.

Linda discovers that Raymond (Matt O’Leary) is like no son she could have imagined. Their journey is unexpected, even inspiring, and laced with plenty of humorous moments for good measure. One strength of this film lies in Linda’s choices, which neither pander to stereotypes, nor follow a predictable path.

Another strength – its supporting elements, from the make-up (Matt O’Leary’s face is cut up for most of the film), to the music, to the sets, all balance the bizarre with a very real, grounded feeling quite masterfully. It would be easy to assume that Linda and Raymond’s last hotel was some grubby $29 a night motel the crew used as-is. In reality, it was created handily and on the cheap by production designer Michael Bricker. The music features a SXSW award-winning score and well-curated soundtrack, chosen by Justin Gage of Aquarium Drunkard fame. I got a chance to chat with Michael and Justin about their work on the film.

[image title=”michael-bricker” size=”full” id=”22304″ align=”left” style=”padding:10px;” linkto=”full” ]Production Designer, Michael Bricker

MOKB: How did you get involved in the film?
Michael Bricker : Someone who knew someone. I was living in Austin at the time, and was recommended for the project by a friend.

MOKB : You had an incredibly small budget to work with. How did you pull it off?

Michael Bricker : Lots of thrift shopping, renting and searching. What we couldn’t find or afford, we built from scratch. We wanted the snowglobe to look a certain way, and couldn’t find one, so we made it. Smithville was such a generous and accommodating town, so several key items were borrowed. Additionally, we shot several different scenes in one or two locations. All 4 hospital/clinic scenes were shot at the same hospital. For the first two motel rooms, we simply rotated the camera 90 degrees and flipped the headboard.

MOKB : What’s the one detail or scene you were most proud of?
Michael Bricker : We did a lot for the final motel room. We started with this abandoned motel that needed a lot of work. It fit with the story however, so we took it from empty white shell and completed the drywall, added wallpaper, painted and aged the walls, then added the set dressing – a mixture of bought, borrowed, found and rented items. This location is a turning point in the story, and since we were able to design the room from scratch, we were able to the story and significance through the design. I also think Linda’s bedroom is particularly good.

MOKB: Did you have to change anything about the movie to accommodate the budget?
Michael Bricker : Not really. We all worked to deliver the story and script as director Robbie Pickering had envisioned. Part of the challenge and creativity of working in independent film is the budgetary constraints. If we couldn’t afford something, we simply worked around it, always coming back to the story to make sure we were making the right call.

MOKB : What’s next for you?
Michael Bricker : I’m always looking for the next project. There are a few good ones brewing, and I’m hoping production will start later this year or early next year. That, plus continuing to expand the work I’m doing with People for Urban Progress.

[image title=”justin-gage” size=”full” id=”22305″ align=”left” style=”padding:10px;” linkto=”” ]Music supervisor, Justin Gage

MOKB : How did you make the leap from music to film?
Justin Gage : I’d known the filmmaker, Robbie Pickering, for some time here in Los Angeles and we had talked off and on about working on something together. The project turned out to be Natural Selection, a screenplay I had read of Robbie’s a couple of years before and loved.

MOKB : Part of your job is to match a moment to the music. What was your best match?
Justin Gage : I found the scope of the Futurebirds material used throughout the film to be a really nice fit tonally with the atmosphere of the overall picture. I’m a great fan of both Richard Swift’s “Would You” and Karen Dalton’s “Something On Your Mind,” so it was great seeing those come to life in the context of the film.

MOKB : Was there a song or artist you really wanted to include, but couldn’t fit in?
Justin Gage : There were a number of songs and artists I considered, but for one reason or another did not make the final cut. Perhaps they’ll pop up in the special features…

MOKB : How did the score shape your choices?
Justin Gage : Throughout the process Robbie and I were working with various temporary scores prior to the entry of the original compositions. We had discussed what he was looking for and, just as importantly, what he was not, so I had a pretty good idea of the kinds of stuff to bring to the table.

MOKB : What’s next for you? Film or music?
Justin Gage : Both. In terms of music supervision, I’m keeping an eye out for the right project. It’s a natural fit, and scratches a certain creative itch.

MOKB : And then I asked both Michael and Justin the questions everyone’s got to be asking – What’s your reaction to the Oscar buzz bestowed on the film by The Guardian?
MB : We’re all excited, and really believe we’ve got something that everyone will love. Rachael and Matt’s performances are so moving and rich that it’s hard not to enjoy this film. Now it’s about waiting, and watching the momentum build.
JG : Yeah, that is obviously super cool.

The verdict:
Put this film in your must-see bucket. Having picked up awards at SXSW, Little Rock Film Festival and Indianapolis International Film Festival, this surprising film is writer and director Robbie Pickering’s first feature debut. Expect big things to come from him.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Australia for the Melbourne International Film Festival catch “Natural Selection” Tuesday, Aug 2nd @ 4:00PM, ACMI 2 in Melbourne, AU. If you’re in other cities, hold tight. Since it was picked up by The Cinema Guild, a theatrical release is expected this fall.

View the trailer:

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