Hear This: Celluloid Heroes

In 2013, the Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) introduced a new concept: a Singer-Songwriter Showcase. The hope was that it would introduce talented Colorado musicians, both label-signed and unsigned, to the international array of filmmakers who attend and showcase their films at the festival. And vice versa. This year, in partnership with the Music District, a nonprofit based in Fort Collins, BIFF will also host a workshop for musicians and filmmakers that will feature industry-specific tricks and resources. All of this is great news for local music lovers.

Independent films and undiscovered musicians are the peanut butter and chocolate of cinema. Consider Colorado-based Devotchka, who found national acclaim and a Grammy nod for best compilation soundtrack when first-time directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris tapped the band for their 2006 hit “Little Miss Sunshine.” At the time, Devotchka was unsigned with a major label, a rarity for Grammy nominees. “We kind of fell into it. It’s a hard gig to land, but in this case, the directors found us,” Devotchka lead singer Nick Urata confessed in a pre-grammy show interview with The FADER magazine.

For decades, happenstance was the rule for such pairings, but the corporatization of both the music and film industries has diminished such opportunities and hurt unsigned artists in the process. Big indie film events, like Sundance and Toronto IFF, have long aimed to turn the coincidences that pair fresh directors and musicians into more reliable networking opportunities. At Sundance, however, these events are put on by membership non-profits ASCAP and BMI who only showcase their artists. Smaller festivals like BIFF give up-and-coming artists a better shot to work with like-minded directors.

Local singer-songwriter and BIFF music director Lisa Bell has run the music aspect of the festival since its inception. Backed by festival directors Robin and Kathy Beeck, Bell produces a two-night singer-songwriter showcase as well as pre-film screening of live music at the festival’s Boulder Theater venue.

“We have a plethora of talent in Boulder and throughout Colorado and we are trying to highlight those original music artists who are undiscovered,” she says. In turn, that drives momentum for musicians with local ties who already have film/TV credits and who draw larger crowds.

In 2016, Miguel Dakota performed at BIFF’s showcase after his 2014 run on “America’s Got Talent.” At the 2017 festival, then 18-year-old Boulder native and “The Voice” contestant Halle Tomlinson performed a set of original songs for the first time. This year, sets have been compressed from 45 minutes to 15 minutes to offer more home-state talent the opportunity to get their sound heard by filmmakers and festival attendees.

Showcase artists and pre-film screening acts are both carefully curated by the selection committee. Since BIFF often shows numerous documentaries as well as feature length films about musicians—a highlight of the festival—pre-screening live acts are synced with film flavor and content. This move boosts both the musicians and the films that follow them on stage.

Colorado transplant and self-described Native American Gypsy Rocker Melissa Ivey performed before “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” in 2017, and this year 1970s folk rock band Magic Music will be hosting an interactive talkback after the screening of a documentary about their life and times in Boulder during the town’s renowned hippie heyday.

The BIFF singer-songwriter showcase is free and open to the public as well filmmakers and festival attendees. As of January 2018, confirmed acts for this year’s showcase include Colorado native now-LA-transplant Nina Storey, whose music has already been featured in numerous films, TV shows and commercials; Gasoline Lollipops singer Clay Rose; spiritual reggae songster Corey McCauley; teen piano prodigy and vocalist Dafna Margalit and Boulder’s own Glam Cowboy Ted Thacker. So if you attend BIFF this year, head to the Singer Songwriter’s showcase. Support local musicians looking for that big break.

BIFF’s Singer-Songwriter showcase will be held on Friday, February 23 and Saturday, February 24 from 6:30–8:30 p.m. For more details on this year’s showcase, check out https://biff1.com/music.

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