The members of Calexico have always been told that their music is theatrical—and that theatricality will be on display this weekend at a two-night Loft event, "Calexico at the Movies."
"Calexico at the Movies" includes screenings of two documentaries, each using the music of Calexico. Friday night's screening will also feature a live performance by the band.
Lead singer and guitarist Joey Burns says the band often tries to find ways to give back to the Tucson community.
"This is just an extension of that," he says. "It will be nice just to celebrate at the movies."
Friday-night audiences will see Circo, which tells the story of a traveling circus family trying to make ends meet in rural Mexico. Saturday night will feature Flor de Muertos, a locally produced film chronicling the All Souls Procession while highlighting cultural issues and the music of Calexico. Directors of both films will be on hand to introduce the movies.
When Aaron Schock began production on Circo, it had nothing to do with a traveling-circus family; the film was supposed to be about Mexican corn farmers.
"One day, this traveling circus came into town," says Schock, Circo's director and producer. "I was beguiled by their show and their act. I became intrigued."
Schock started to hang around the circus family, and he soon found out that these were not stereotypical carnival people.
"What I found was a hard-working, earnest family trying to survive," he says.
Schock chose various pieces of music as place-holders until he could find a composer to create the musical score. It was at this time that Schock noticed something interesting about the place-holder music being used.
"It was Calexico. We just kept going back to Calexico," he says.
Calexico's "gritty feel" and "handmade quality" fit perfectly with what would become Circo, Schock says.
When Schock sent Calexico a rough cut of the movie with the band's music inserted into the film, Calexico members knew this was a movie they could get behind, Burns says.
"Circo is a great movie and definitely one of the reasons we decided to work with Aaron Schock," Burns says. "They didn't want anything to seem polished. They wanted something raw."
The final product of the documentary is one that Burns says will both inspire the audience and make them think about how their own lives relate to subjects onscreen.
"It's about a family. Everyone will be able to relate to a family trying to make ends meet," he says.
Flor de Muertos, on the other hand, is layered in complexities. Part documentary, part concert film, Flor de Muertos is "an active meditation on a lot of issues about the border," says Doug Biggers, a producer of the film. "It's a multifaceted documentary."
With backdrop of the Tucson All Souls Procession and a performance by Calexico at the Rialto Theatre, the documentary touches on Dia de los Muertos, deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border and other border issues, says Danny Vinik, director of Flor de Muertos.
While Flor de Muertos will eventually see a wide release, Biggers says that he expects Tucson audiences to have the most emotional response to the film.
Vinik agrees. "Some people say it's a love letter to Tucson," he says.
Calexico's sound fits the film well, pulling from various influences and styles, Biggers says.
"This film is really a celebration of cross-cultural influences," he says. "Calexico thrives artistically on cross-cultural collaboration."
Burns says he hopes that, if nothing else, Flor de Muertos will cause movie-goers to think about cross-cultural themes that have had an impact on their own life experiences and the community.
"It's drama and theater and comedy and the spectrum of life," he says. "It makes people proud to be from Tucson."
Although Circo and Flor de Muertos certainly have their differences, the unifying themes of cultural identity and Calexico, along with the presence of both of the directors, will satisfy audience members who come to both "Calexico at the Movies" events, says Jeff Yanc, program director for the Loft.
"It's very local-oriented," he says. "If you like good movies, you'll want to come."