The Arizona International Film Festival is on to something here: The fest celebrated its 15th anniversary by incorporating music for the first time. The effort was a long way from chief organizer Giulio Scalinger's vision of a South by Southwest-like film and music event, but last weekend offered two extraordinary glimpses of the notion's potential.
Friday evening, fans were able to view an edited and updated version of High and Dry, a film surveying, wittily and ruefully, the evolution of Tucson's music scene, and then head down to Club Congress to see some of the film's key characters, live and in person. Chris Holiman, formerly of the River Roses, led off the set, followed by Cathy Rivers' solo act, Little Black Cloud. Howe Gelb followed with one of his trademark rambles, which took a serendipitous turn when Tommy Larkins joined on drums, and visiting Jayhawk Gary Louris sat in on piano.
Rumor had it that Louris and fellow Jayhawk Mark Olson would perform a song or two following their show at the Rialto, but the timing was so tight that relative newcomer Tom Walbank and his juke-joint explosion didn't hit the stage until 1:30 a.m., following Al Perry and Jefferson Keenan fronting the Fraidy Cats in a set of country covers that filled the dance floor.
The next day's events had the opposite problem: too much time in the schedule, and too little focus to the lineup. The wait between film shorts and live music sets challenged the crowd to stay through the long day, which opened at 4:30 p.m. with a surprise set by Fourkiller Flats--which is not a band for neat rows of theater-style seating. After a short film and a long wait, Foothills High students Afrodelic Stegosaurchestra performed an Afro-Caribbean set loaded with astonishingly competent saxophone riffs and tight, complex rhythms.
Schedule switches then led to a run of generally terrific little films. Eventually, the potential symbiosis between film and live music emphatically revealed its power in Jose Saavedra's live, real-time soundtrack to the film Presente: Inside the Migrant Trail Walk. It was an act even Tom Walbank and Al Perry had a tough time following.