SXSW Preview: Directors of 4 Docs About Music Outside the Mainstream on Their Passion Projects

Courtesy Photo
Poster for the film "Y/Our Music"

The SXSW Film Festival, which starts March 13, annually places a spotlight on obscure corners of the music world and in many cases, the festival provides the rare screening of these documentaries. Directors of four films premiering at SXSW about music outside the mainstream talk to Billboard about their passion for their subjects and what it took to get their films made. 

Dominguinhos 
Gilberto Gil, Hermeto Pascoal and other Brazilian greats discuss the genius of the late accordionist Dominguinhos in this documentary directed by Joaquim Castro, Eduardo Nazarian and Mariana Aydar. 

Aydar, a singer, says Dominguinhos' "natural talent, his ability to play all rhythms, his generous nature and his humanity" are not well known to the people of Brazil. "In addition to his great hits, there is a very unknown discography, from the 70's mainly, that is really impressive."

Research for the film began in 2008 and shooting began in 2011 when Dominguinhos was battling lung cancer. Post-production, which included securing music and historical footage, took all of 2013, during which time the team created and produced an online series. The film opened in Brazil in early 2014 and spent four months in theaters. 

"It's a universal story, about life and death, love and pain, the struggle for food, the life of an immigrant," says Nazarian via email from Brazil. "He became a musical phenomenon without ever looking for fame."

SXSW: Tower Records, Brian Wilson, Gloria Trevi & Jaco Pastorius Films on the Lineup

They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile 
After jihadists banned music in Mali in 2012, the musicians worked to keep music alive by performing anywhere they could. Director Johanna Schwartz, who has been making documentaries for British television for 15 years, was planning a trip to the Festival in the Desert as a fan.

"I was reading the articles in London and couldn't believe music had been banned," says Schwartz. "Instead of going as a tourist, I went as a filmmaker with no support, no funding. I just showed up and started and was completely overwhelmed by the story."

Former Tinariwen manager Andy Morgan supplied crucial introductions to musical acts as she followed them from Mali to Burkina Faso, London and elsewhere. The film, which will have a soundtrack, includes music from recent Atlantic signing Songhoy Blues, Afel Boucom, Vieux Farka Toure, rapper Amkoullel and Kankou Kouyate.

Schwartz uses music as narration including new songs from. "I came up with the idea of commissioning musicians to write songs about the scenes to act like the film's narrator," she said from London. "Our soundtrack is a combination of music from our characters, music that we commissioned and the score written for us by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs."

Boogaloo Film 'We Like It Like That' Salutes the Sound That 'Saved Latin Music in New York'

We Like It Like That
Director-producer Mathew Ramirez Warren explores Latin boogaloo, the post-mambo fusion of guajira and R&B popular in in the South Bronx and Brooklyn in the 1960s that has seen a recent global revival. "It reflects the American experience and I think that translates to all cultures, everyone who's an immigrant," says Ramirez Warren. "It's about those generations in flux, both assimilating, but kind of harkening back to their roots. That's what boogaloo was all about."

A freelance journalist, Ramirez Warren started working on the film in 2009 after writing a story on boogaloo star Johnny Colon for Wax Poetics. He secured financing through a pair of grants and a Kickstarter campaign, then reached out to the Fania label to see about securing sync licenses to the 40-plus songs in the film from the likes of the legend Joe Bataan and newcomers Boogaloo Assassins.

Fania, through its Codigo Films arm, stepped in and assisted in securing rights outside their catalog as well coordinating sales efforts for the film.

"We get hit almost daily with people wanting to do a documentary about one part of our label or an era or one of our artists. In this, case there was something more than the usual request and we decided to pursue it and partner with him on it," says Michael Rucker, chief marketing officer of Fania Records/Codigo.

We Like It Like That - Trailer from Mathew Ramirez Warren on Vimeo.

Y/Our Music
Nine Thai musicians outside the mainstream, ranging from an optician who builds saxophones out of bamboo to master pin player Thongsai Thabthanon and Bangkok indie rockers, reveal their passions and aspirations. "The thing everyone has in common is they don't pander to the mainstream, they completely follow their own paths regardless of the mainstream and all of the rewards it can offer," says co-director and editor David Reeve, who fell under the sway of the country's music when he heard a violinist in a street market. "They have done it for different reasons and different ways and they continue to do that."

London-based Reeve made the film with Waraluck Hiransrettawat Every in Bangkok over the course of two years, the first 12 months spent collecting stories. Reeve would like to further expose the music of the film through a soundtrack release that, bizarrely, is not much of an issue.

"The rights situation in Thailand is actually complete anarchy," says Reeve. "If you're a ruthless person you could exploit a lot of people in Thailand. Just by making the film, we might have rights to certain songs. It's bizarre in a way that I don't understand or necessarily want to understand."

An edited version of this story originally appeared in the March 14 issue of Billboard.