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Vive le festival

The eighth annual Sound Unseen Festival might be leaner than years past, but it remains vibrant

The duty of sifting through hours and hours of music and movies, which has long been reserved for festival coordinators and attendees, is giving way to two of our most cherished pastimes: progress and boredom, known in some circles as You!

And your close relation, YouTube.

Less than 20 years ago, for instance, a small, upstart film festival with a cutesy name, Sundance, was seen as ground breaking; men and women in the know just knew that if film was happening in the United States it was happening in this little resort town in Utah – just follow the sun.

“8th Annual Sound Unseen Festival”

WHEN: Aug. 22 through Aug. 26
WHERE: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis; Riverview Theater, 3800 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $7 single film, $45 all festival pass
Visit for complete listings

Sundance today: New Hollywood, more or less. But all that romance is gradually bowing down to good ol’ human determination and time, time, time – time online, that is – by me and you and everyone we know. Yet somewhere, against the grain, or against the current, as it were, another small, Twin-Cities-established festival paddles on.

The Sound Unseen Festival, which will commence its eighth year next Wednesday, Aug. 22, and will run through the 26, has screened new, little to unknown films covering all things music since before the word “peer” became part of an abbreviation, if only just before.

“The music business is changing; it’s more accessible to people and more people want to get things out,” said Gretchen Williams, Sound Unseen festival director, about the increasing availability of online content. “It’s great! But we’re still out there bringing movies that people haven’t seen. Like, ‘Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London’ is a rarely screened documentary about mod culture and music and art in Britain from the ’60s. And we were able to get it.”

This year’s festival will screen 12 films over five days, which dutiful attendees will note is a trimmed down version of previous years.

“The size of the festival has varied throughout the years. Two years ago it was a full 16 days; last year it was seven days. And we’ve always screened the films twice. But this year only one film is being screened twice,” Williams said.

That one film is “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer,” about the jazz diva who shared the stage with Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and Thelonius Monk. She impressively remained active, albeit through some turbulence (a near-fatal drug overdose, for one), from the mid-1930s through the 1970s.

But don’t bemoan the festival. Sound Unseen has never been a matter of size, and festivals of any type tend to bear the stigma of hefting around too much festival for any one attendee to manage. The screenings for Sound Unseen will again cover an impressive range of music and film history – without the threat of exhaustion, yours or the festival’s.

Rani Singh’s “The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music,” gives avant-garde filmmaker and legendary folk-music archivist Harry Smith the screen time he and his over 8,000-deep record collection deserve. The collection includes Blind Lemon Jefferson, Roscoe Holcomb and others.

A likely crowd pleaser will be “Yellow,” a contemporary musical romance that immediately stirs the recent memory of Irish musician-turn-director, John Carney and his film “Once” (speaking of Sundance success). “Yellow” has received credit as a successful pastiche of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1930s Hollywood musicals. It’s an ambitious comparison, made all the more so by the film’s score, which is comprised of original songs that were recorded live, off camera, during the film’s shooting.

A host of other films cover one week of concerts in the 7th Street Entry (“7 Nights in the Entry”), a collection of animated shorts from Sweden (PD03: Day Dream Nation”) and the United States’ growing passion for air guitar (“Air Guitar Nation”).

This year, like last, Sound Unseen will open with an awards ceremony, the second annual Artist of Distinction Award.

“The award is something we started last year to recognize people who’ve really contributed to the music and film scene in the Twin Cities,” Williams said.

Recipients of this year’s awards are Dessa of the hip-hop collective Doomtree, First Avenue stage manager Conrad Sverkerson, and KFAI radio personality Tony Paul.

“Conrad’s just a staple of First Avenue. Dessa is a new face who’s already shown great talent, especially considering she’s a female working in a male dominated environment. And Tony Paul is essentially the mayor of all music in town,” Williams said.

The award ceremony, held in the 7th Street Entry at First Avenue, is the first of a full weekend’s-worth of festival parties and events.

Each night, the festival will close with an after party, and throughout the five days there are enough events to make you forget you ever commented on that New Order message board. Sunday afternoon offers a free bike tour with stops including, among others, One on One, Varsity Cycle and CRC Cafe, and Saturday afternoon features the Girls Rock! Panel, a discussion with Twin Cities women who work in music and supplement to Arne Johnson’s documentary “Girls Rock!”

“(The festival’s) kind of an excuse to have a good time with other people and watch great films about music,” Williams said.

The upshot of a festival like Sound Unseen is that when the lights come on, you go to an after party where you can use your real name, where you can clink glasses with the person you’re talking to and where you can let free those opinions without having to add 🙂 or 🙁 to ensure your stance is felt. Of course, no one’s saying you can’t ask everyone to call you JoyDivLvr, or even lonelygirl15, if that’s what You want, what You really, really want.

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