Louder than ever 

Your complete guide to the 9th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

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So what are these secrets? Only seminal performances by seminal punk and new wave bands and artists in seminal clubs like NYC's CBGB's and Danceteria, all between 1975 and 1980. In other words, these were filmed at a time when doing so was as easy as baking a soufflé in a covered wagon trundling over the Rocky Mountains.

If you're uninterested in these great artists of the past, who created a different musical soundscape and worldview, then don't read the following abridged list of performers captured by the duo: Bad Brains, Blondie, Bush Tetras, Corpse Grinders, Cramps, Dead Boys (with John Belushi), Dead Kennedys, Devo, Go-Go's, Idols, Iggy Pop, John Cale, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Legs McNeil, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Suicide, Sun Ra, Talking Heads, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and Tito Puente (yes, that Tito Puente).

The sound quality and look of these videos tends toward good and often leans to great (way better than those gall-darned cell-phone videos on the tubes), especially considering that some of this music is loud, abrasive and played by highed-up rock and roll newbies or just plain weird dudes and chicks (Alan Vega of Suicide comes to mind). The mistakes are there but so is the energy.

The films themselves are made up of performances strung together, one after the other with no narrative arc or storytelling. They aren't chronological either, but have a semblance of theme. For the festival, Ivers and Armstrong are screening Nightclubbing: Greatest Hits, which is just what it sounds like: all the best crammed into one-hour of "Did you just see David Byrne do that?" They are also screening Nightclubbing: Roots of Hard Core, which features the likes of Iggy Pop, Dead Kennedys and Cheetah Chrome and the Casualties.

This is bliss. It's guilt-free nostalgia, without commentary or questions. This is the music as it was and as it shall be, no "cultural lenses" or "post-zeitgeist-identity politics" mucking it up. And that is awesome.

Showing: Nightclubbing: Greatest Hits screens Sat., Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Wilma. Nightclubbing: Roots of Hard Core screens Mon., Feb. 20, at 7:45 p.m. at the Crystal.

Jason McMackin

Moving pictures

You've never heard of Bill Plympton, but you know this illustrator's work

Unless you're a hardcore animated short film aficionado, it's unlikely that you've ever heard of Bill Plympton. But you have seen his work. Go ahead, Google him up right now. We'll wait.

See, told you so.

It's possible you still can't pinpoint exactly where you've seen his work, but there's no mistaking the signature style of the man they call the King of Indie Animation. You may have seen one of his shorts on "Liquid Television," the short-lived but memorable MTV show from the early '90s. Maybe you recall his work from memorable Geico and United Airlines commercials over the past decade. Maybe it's the two "Weird Al" Yankovic videos he's animated. Or maybe you just make it your mission to watch every Oscar-nominated animated short film.

If that's the case, you've seen two of Plympton's films: 1987's Your Face and 2004's Guard Dog. Neither won the gold statue, but the shorts secured Plympton's niche in the film world. Your Face depicts a man singing about the face of his lover, and as he does his own face contorts in an assortment of ways. With a similarly simple but distinctive colored-pencil animation style, Guard Dog tells the short story of how a dog envisions the world while walking with his owner.

And don't forget the sequels. Plympton has followed up the original short with Guide Dog (2006), Hot Dog (2008) and Horn Dog (2009).

Not only will Plympton's work be showcased in two different screenings at this year's Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, but the animator himself will also be in attendance. And you're probably going to have questions for the filmmaker after watching 75 minutes of his shorts in the aptly titled Plymptoons, or, The-Slightly-Non-Fiction-ish-Somewhat Doc-Like-How-To-Films of Bill Plymptoon. (Yes, that's the whole title.)

Really, there's no better way to explain it. Plympton's How-To collection includes topics ranging from 25 Ways To Quit Smoking to How To Kiss to How To Make Love To a Woman. And just how do you quit smoking, according to the 65-year-old animator? Tip number 10 suggests locking your cigarettes in the car on a hot day, during which we observe two panicked cigarettes searching for a way out. And let's just say the kissing lessons depict a rather aggressive form of frenching that involves the fusing together of two bodies. All animated, of course.

It's a style epitomized by quirky and often subversive humor, as best demonstrated by Santa: The Fascist Years, which will also screen during the collection of shorts, and which is summed up pretty well by the title: Here you will meet Santa, circa World War II, and learn of a time when the jolly bearded man wasn't so jolly.

Part II of the Plympton retrospective is a new documentary about the animator's 40-year career. Adventures in Plymptoons includes interviews with family, friends, colleagues, critics and fans. No word on whether the 85-minute feature will delve into Plympton's most recent work, but here's hoping there's a good back story for his 2010 animated short, The Cow Who Wanted To Be a Hamburger.

Showing: Plymptoons, or, The-Slightly-Non-Fiction-ish-Somewhat Doc-Like-How-To-Films of Bill Plymptoon screens Sun., Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilma. Adventures in Plymptoons! screens Mon., Feb. 20, at 3:30 p.m. at the Crystal.

Dave Loos

The agitator

Making sense of Caveh Zahedi's mixed up, messed up life on screen

Caveh Zahedi can't help but provoke. The self-obsessed filmmaker has made a name by firmly inserting himself into each one of his projects, and pushing whatever boundaries surround him.

In I Am a Sex Addict, his most noteworthy film, he admits an unquenchable thirst for sex with hookers and tries to work through that little issue with multiple committed, non-hooker partners. They're not exactly thrilled. In I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore, a crudely shot, high-concept exploration into the existence of God, he tries to get his father to take Ecstasy with him to spruce up an idea that, with cameras rolling, is falling flat. Dad refuses.

Zahedi's latest film takes aim at a bigger target. According to The New York Times, the director was commissioned to make a short film for a prominent contemporary art festival in the Middle East. He's given a few restrictions, like no frontal nudity and no making fun of Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah and a major benefactor of the festival. Naturally, Zahedi couldn't resist the bait and made an entire film mocking the sheikh. According to the Times, the sheikh's lawyers asked that all copies be destroyed and it never be shown, anywhere.

click to enlarge I Am a Sex Addict
  • I Am a Sex Addict

In each case, Zahedi finds someone to agitate. The audience's reaction is an entirely separate situation. At his best, Zahedi is hailed as a shameless and insecure wreck who's willing to recklessly bare it all for the camera, damn the consequences. The Times called him "a peevish and hypertalkative but ultimately likable Everyman." At his worst, he's all those things, but far from likable. Rooting for someone intent on ruining his marriages for back-alley blowjobs ain't easy.

Among those who may be put-off by Zahedi's work are documentary purists. In fact, one could argue that his most accessible film, I Am a Sex Addict, isn't a documentary at all. The majority of the film consists of staged scenes filled with actors. Zahedi plays himself, but almost nothingsave for a powerful final sceneis raw footage of a real-life event. It's as much a "true documentary" as an episode of "Louie." Zahedi's willingness to bare all doesn't hide the fact that the audience is still stuck with his manipulated and often mocking version of a story.

Zahedi doesn't shy away from being polarizing. He defends his work and tactics and, in the case of the sheikh dispute, invites his critics to respond on camera "as long as it's not boring or anything." Boring is certainly the one complaint Big Sky audiences will not have with Zahedi.

Showing: I Am a Sex Addict screens Fri., Feb. 24, at 7:15 p.m. at the Crystal. I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore screens Sat., Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. at the Crystal, followed by In the Bathtub of the World and an untitled Zahedi film.

Skylar Browning

This story was updated to reflect new screen times and locations.
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