The Big Sonic Preview

From the war torn Gaza Strip, to the forgotten Cambodian rock-and-roll culture, the inception of Hip Hop on the streets of New York City, to the banned but unbreakable musicians of northern Mali, if you like a lot of music with your moving pictures or if you just want to find more films along similar lines to last year’s epic Whiplash, the Sonic Strand is the place to be.

Comprising of documentaries and biopics, as well as fiction, the Sonic Strand has something to suit all musical tastes, including archive footage and interviews from The Ramones, Jack White, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Mohammed Assaf, Elton John, The Beatles and many, many more.  So turn on, tune in and get ready for a beautiful, creative and passionate fusion of cinema and music.

Sonic Gala, in association with Mobo Film.

The Idol (Hany Abu Assad, UK-Palestine-Qatar-Netherlands-UEA, 2015)
(Ya Tayrel al Tayer)

Growing up in the war torn Gaza strip in the 1990s, Mohammed Assaf dreamed of musical superstardom, forming bands with his sister and friends from a young age and performing as an underage wedding singer. But, the possibility of singing professionally seemed unlikely until he took part in, and won, Arab Idol in 2013.
Now Oscar nominated director and screenwriter Hany Abu Assad brings Mohammed’s incredible story to the big screen, documenting the challenges and hurdles on his way to Egypt’s premier singing contest, from being stuck at closed boarders for days with no passport, trying to convince the guards to let him across, to climbing the hotel walls to get into the auditions. The Idol gives those in the know a chance to relive the rise of a musical star, for those not in the know it is a chance to discover an incredible new talent, as well as experience a tale of hard work, dedication and perseverance, and not giving up on your dreams.

Sonic Strand 2015

The American Epic Sessions (Bernard MacMahon, UK-USA, 2015)

In the days before digital file sharing, compact disks, even cassettes and vinyl, there was The Western Electric Lathe, an ingenious new machine operated by a series of weights and pulleys. Now, one of these machines that pioneered music recording has been wonderfully restored in an old Hollywood studio. Overseen by Jack White and T Bone Burnett, who also served as executive producers on the film, a diverse group of musicians, including Merle Haggard, Ana Gabriel, Elton John, Alabama Shakes, and many more, gather to cut their own track within the 3 minutes the Lathe allows.

Danny Says (Brendan Toller, USA, 2015)

Being manager of The Ramones is quite a claim to fame, enough to suffice a life time, but Danny Says (which takes its name from a Ramones song) delves deep into the life of Danny Fields (nee Feinberg). From dropping out of Harvard Law School and moving to NYC, to his stint as a music journalist and being responsible for The Beatles ‘bigger than Jesus’ controversy, Fields was a part of some of the biggest and most important musical moments of the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on a rich archive of performances, interviews and other relics of the 60s and 70s, Danny Says pays tribute to a punk, gay and cultural icon who has worked with so many stars of the music industry including the Stooges, Patti Smith, The Doors, Lou Reed, as well as enriching the lives of so many fans.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (John Pirozzi, USA, 2014)

In the mid 1960s Cambodia was drawn into the Vietnam War, the American blanket bombing of the country gave rise to the civil war, and allowed the brutal Khmer Rouge to take control of the country and embark on a genocidal reign that has been compared to the Holocaust. Along with its stunning Buddhist and Hindu ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, this painful and tragic period is the thing most people think of when they hear the name Cambodia.
But before Pol Pot and his cohorts seized power, the development of the arts was thriving in Cambodia under the reign of Prince Sihanouk, and a new style of rock n roll was just beginning. Fusing Afro-Cuban rhythms with Cambodia’s hypnotic, traditional melodies, this vibrant thriving subculture was just getting into its stride when Cambodia was sucked into the Vietnam War, putting an end to it. Now John Pirozzi uses Cambodian rock n roll to tell a beautifully, captivating and moving story of music, war and the horrific ‘Killing Fields’.

Elephant Days (James Caddick, James Cronin, UK, 2015)

In 2013 The Maccabees’ third album Given To The Wild received a Mercury Award, and as the band begin work on their fourth album Mark To Prove It in self-imposed isolation in an anonymous studio in London’s Elephant and Castle neighbourhood, Caddick and Cronin’s documentary captures the band’s creative process. But more than just a typical ‘making of’ type of documentary for The Maccabees, Elephant Days explores the surrounding area, telling an intricate story of the people who make up the area, including local musicians, religious ministers, and owner of the Pie and Mash Shop.

Fresh Dressed (Sacha Jenkins, USA, 2015)

After receiving its world premiere In February at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Sacha Jenkins’ music-fashion documentary Fresh Dressed was an instant hit, and talk of the festival. Going back as far as the Southern Plantations, and with contributions from industry insiders including Pharrell Williams, Kanye West and Nas Jones, Fresh Dressed chronicles the rise of Hip Hop music and its relationship to the urban fashion “Fresh” and how the oversized pants and graffiti jackets went from being a part of urban counterculture to the catwalks and malls of Middle America.

Hot Sugar’s Cold World (Adam Bhala Lough, USA, 2015,)

Nick Koenig, more commonly known as Hot Sugar, is a musician and record producer based out of New York City, and champion of an experimental subgenre known as ‘associative music’, a hugely individual style that involves pulling sounds from many different instruments, and non-traditional sources and mixing them with his own Hip Hop and Electronic vocals and melodies.
Hot Sugar’s Cold World documents the musician in something of a personal descent, following his very public break-up with rapper Kitty, Hot Sugar heads to Paris, capturing the sounds of the city of love and channelling them into pieces that instead of love and romance, tell stories of his heartbreak and angst.

Janis: Little Girl Blue (Amy J Berg, USA, 2015)

Drawing on archive footage, contemporary interviews and Joplin’s own personal correspondences, Oscar nominated documentary maker Amy J Berg creates an intimate portrait of a hugely talented, free-spirited woman. A woman who rebelled against the bigoted youth of her hometown, broke the rules and smashed apart the barriers for women by simply doing what she wanted, from openly dating women, to her boyish looks, to fronting a rock band, until her death from a heroin overdose in 1970 at the age of only 27.
Comparisons have been drawn between Joplin and Amy Winehouse, singers including Stevie Nicks, P!nk, Florence Welch and Lindsey Buckingham have cited Janis Joplin as an influence on their careers. But before Amy, and P!nk, and Stevie, there was Janis.

A Poem Is A Naked Person (Les Blank, USA, 1974)

Another film from the Treasures Collection, Les Blank’s debut feature A Poem In A Naked Person barely saw the light of day when it was finished in 1974 due to legal issues and other complications. But now 41 years later, his son Harrod has been able to oversee a restoration of his father’s work and for the first time in over 4 decades audiences will now be able to watch Blank’s feature chronicling 2 years (1972-4) in the life of musician Leon Russell.
As well as documenting the work of a hugely talented musician in his Oklahoma studio and on stage performances, A Poem Is A Naked Person also captures the psychedelic, wild and free-wheeling Oklahoma music community that is now long gone.

Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore (Khavn De La Cruz, Philippines-Germany, 2014)
(Pusong Wazak: Isa Na Namang Kwento Pag-Ibig Sa Pagitan Ng Puta At Kriminal)

Filmmaker and musician Khavn De La Cruz describes his experience of making Ruined Heart as “Incidents unfold like a daydream or a nightmare. You don’t remember the details, but you remember the feeling. Above all you remember the music.” Driven by its cracking soundtrack composed by Khvan, incorporating a wide range of genres and styles, Ruined Heart is an explosive mix of sex, violence and crime, with stunning performances from Nathalia Acevedo and Asano Tadanobu as the titular whore and criminal.

Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives (Bobbito Garcia, USA, 2015)

With contributions from Jay-Z, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Wu Tang and many more, Radio That Changed Lives is a must see for Hip Hop fans, telling the story of Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia, radio DJs from New York who have been changing lives and the face of Rap and Hip Hop since 1990. The duo took to the airways on WKGR in New York in 1990, and began playing demo tapes of then unsigned Hip Hop and Rap artists, artists who now form a huge part of the genre.
Stretch and Bobbito will be performing live DJ sets following the screenings of Radio That Changed Lives, and Fresh Dressed at Hackney Picturehouse, more details will be available in our upcoming Big Events Preview.

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile (Johanna Schwartz, UK, 2015)

In 2012 Islamic extremists took control of Northern Mali, and in an extremely harsh and damaging interpretation of Sharia Law all forms of music was banned. Creating a society the rest of us would struggle to imagine, one where radio stations were destroyed, instruments and recordings destroyed, musicians were even tortured to death, a horrific tragedy for a country with such a rich and vibrant musical heritage as Mali has. In her debut feature Johanna Schwartz tells the story of the group of exile musicians determined not to give up and to keep their music alive.

Sound Mirrors (Various, France-Canada-Germany-UK, 2014-2015)

Sound Mirrors is a diverse musical compilation of short films, travelling from the London pub circuit, to Quebec via Morocco and suburban Paris, all telling different stories with one thing in common: a love of music.

Further details of the Sonic Strand can be found here x

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