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Nerds, Natives & Noam 

The Loft film fest is back with a mix of classics and comedies, documentaries and dramas, animation and avant-garde, and everything in between.

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Usually, it's not a good idea to have expectations that are too lofty. But when you bring your expectations to the Loft Film Fest, it should be safe to keep them pretty high. This year's festival is longer and–dare we say–loftier than ever. Festival Director and Program Director at The Loft Jeff Yanc says the team incorporated two screenings of almost every film this year, so you don't have to miss anything–and neither does he.

"When I go to festivals, I like to try to see everything," he says. "So I understand that."

He's looking forward to a screening of Allison Anders' Gas Food Lodging, and Anders being given the festival's Maverick Award for the serious barrier busting and trailblazing she started doing back in the eighties. Hearing the great "Uncle Noam" Chomsky talk about his work in film is another Spotlight Event he's gearing up for, and so is seeing Curtis Armstrong (Booger) at a Revenge of The Nerds screening.

"It's such a big piece of Tucson history, so that's going to be really fun," Yanc says.

It's only eight years old this year, but it's become such a fantastic annual treat that you could say the same of The Loft Film Fest itself.

It runs from Wednesday, Nov. 8 to Thursday, Nov. 16, with a detailed schedule of events on their website, loftfilmfest.org. The week is jam packed with memorable characters: a pseudo Jon Hamm, a gorilla with an office job, a man who forgets to breathe, a profoundly sexy alien, an array of people struggling with aging and death. Not to mention the heartfelt explorations of topics like paid leave and police brutality; chilling accounts of serial killer origin stories and deep dives into satanism; and the chance to look at the world through the eyes of impoverished teenagers, post-apocalyptic critters and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Ready to Rumble

A new documentary looks at how Native Americans have made their mark in rock 'n' roll

Stevie Salas says he would have been equally happy being "a professional surfer, a professional skateboarder or a professional rockstar." He just happened to go the rockstar route.

Back in the '80s, his new wave-y punk band, This Kids, used to come to Tucson to play at UA, opening for Gentlemen Afterdark, the Tucson band once featuring the vocals of Tucson Salvage columnist Brian Smith.

Salas is Apache, something he describes as being a part of who he is as a human being, a part of his soul, but not his calling card as a performer.

"My goal was always to be the greatest musician I could possibly be, and play with the best musicians in the world," he says. "Not to be the best Native American musician."

And indeed, Native American musicians don't need their own niche category to make waves in the music industry: they've had a huge presence there for decades, in ways that most people don't realize.

Salas and his big-time musician friends—he mentions Slash specifically—learned to play guitar from some of the guys they'd put on the Mount Rushmore of rock gods: Jimmy Page, Ray and Dave Davies, Eric Clapton, Peter Townshend, Jeff Beck, James Brown. But who are the heroes' heroes? Some of them, like Shawnee Indian Link Wray, are Native American,

"Pete Townshend was even writing the lining notes on Link Gray albums," Salas says, "Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck used to play to air guitar from Link Wray."

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, a new film co-created and executive produced by Salas, shares the untold story of the influential Native Americans who have been rocking our worlds for generations—their music as loud as their identities were quiet.

Salas himself got his big break after he "stole" Gentlemen Afterdark's drummer, Winston Watson, and moved to L.A. to start a band. When they got kicked out of the house they were living in, Salas performed busy work at a recording studio in exchange for being allowed to sleep there. He used to introduce himself  to every musician who came through, letting them know he played guitar and was available to play whenever. Gene Simmons once told him to fuck off. It paid off one night when George Clinton from Funkadelic woke Salas up at 3 a.m. to play some guitar.

Salas' career took off from there. He was the lead guitarist on Clinton's R&B Skeletons in the Closet, worked with Bootsy Collins, and then joined Rod Stewart on a world tour as his lead guitarist. (Since then, he's collaborated with everyone from Mick Jagger to Justin Timberlake, and sold over two million solo albums.)

He was traveling the world, living his dream and always keeping an eye out for other Native American musicians. He started doing some research into the topic as a hobby.

"I can't be the only American Indian guy out here playing at Madison Square Gardens," he remembers thinking.

Was he surprised to have come across such a strong Native American influence in music? Constantly. One of the biggest surprises was realizing that some of the guitar parts he was playing while touring with Rod Stewart were written by Jesse Ed Davis, a Native American who used to play guitar for Stewart.

"Not only were [Native American legacies] there, I was actually playing some guy's parts every night in front of 20,000 people," Salas says.

Salas hopes the film will help people realize that there are plenty of role models within the Native American community—we just don't always realize it.

"Every great super-musician in the world that I knew knew about these Native American musicians, just no one in the general public did," he says.

To start getting the info out, Salas began working with Tim Johnson, a Mohawk and associate director for museum programs at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. and New York. The exhibit they put together at the Smithsonian in 2010—"Up Where We Belong: Native Americans in Popular Culture"—was wildly popular.

With the credibility to back up their story (who's going to argue about the historical validity of something that was featured in the Smithsonian?) Salas decided to take the next step by making the film.

"A movie could be exciting, and inspirational," he says. "And who doesn't wanna see a movie with all the most famous rock stars who ever lived?"

The rock stars include Iggy Pop,Tony Bennett, Robbie Robertson, George Clinton, Steven Tyler and Slash, to name just a few. Most of them are friends of Salas', so they were easy to get in touch with. And most of them, Salas says, were passionate about the story. It was a chance to pay tribute to their heroes.

It's become big in ways and places Salas and his team didn't expect. For starters, there was the fact that they made it into Sundance at all (they got the call last December, their most recent edit still three-and-a-half hours long, and finished the whole thing in a whirlwind few weeks.) Then there was the special jury award for masterful storytelling at Sundance. And then there's been the international appeal: sold out theaters in Australia that at first had him wondering why people cared in other parts of the world.

"This is a really important development to how we got to where we are in pop music today," he says. "It isn't just a Native American history story. It's become like a global story, because the music that these people made was so global."

Rumble is showing at the Loft Film Fest at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11 and 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16. Salas and the film's producer, Christina Fon, will be present at the Nov. 11 screening only, and all-access pass holders have access to a special reception with the filmmakers after the screening.

Coming Attractions

Here's a (not exhaustive!) sampling of some of the films that will be showing throughout the fest.

Revenge of the Nerds. Back in the day before safe spaces and a woke student body, jocks ruled the campus and nerds slept in Bear Down Gym. Watch the Alpha Betas torment the Tri-Lambs until the big Greek Games showdown. And watch for all your favorite UA-area locations, although many of them may have been demolished since the film was shot in Tucson in 1984. Revenge of the Nerds opens up the festival with a big party featuring '80s cover band 80s and Gentlemen, keg beer and even an appearance by Curtis Armstrong, aka "Booger." Maybe we can hear some juicy stories about the bad influence of John Goodman on all those young actors. Armstrong will stick around after the film to sign copies of his new memoir, "Revenge of the Nerd: Or ... The Singular Adventures of the Man Who Would Be Booger." 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8.

I Am Another You. This award-winning film by documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang starts with her buying a one-way ticket to Florida and a plan to document every conversation she has on the journey. Early in the trip, she meets up with a free spirit who has chosen to be homeless, and joins him on his adventure. The more she gets to know him, the more shadowy the story gets. 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11 and 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Oscar-nominated director Kirby Dick will present Wang with the festival's Social Justice Award via Skype at the Nov. 11 screening.

Gas Food Lodging. This 25th anniversary screening of Allison Anders' film will bring back the characters of Nora, a hard-working waitress in New Mexico, and her daughters Trudi and Shade, who leave town in search of something bigger and better and find themselves facing disappointment and discovering their own strength. 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12. Writer/director Allison Anders and cinematographer Dean Lent will be at the screening, and Anders will receive the festival's Lee Marvin Maverick Award for her daring, original and independent work. Anders and Lent will be at a private post-film reception for all-access passholders only.

Faces Places. When an 89-year-old filmmaker who was hugely influential in the French New Wave teams up with a 33-year-old French photographer and muralist to direct a road movie/documentary, you might not expect the result to be so sweet. But as the two peas in a pod (if peas came in drastically different heights) travel around villages in France, meet townspeople, and work together to produce larger-than-life portraits of the people they meet, you can watch their friendship deepen. The film won the 2017 Cannes Golden Eye Documentary Award, and the Loft showing is sponsored by Alliance Francaise. 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 8 and 5:15 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13. In French with English subtitles.

Sylvio. Let's not bury the lede here: Sylvio is a gorilla living life like a human, working as a debt collector, hanging out at diners with his friends and—perhaps most human of all—experiencing an onslaught of existential dread. His real dream is to perform with his hand puppet, Herbert Herpels, and when he somehow winds up on a local television show, things don't go as planned. That is to say, Sylvio fumbles his chance at fame, but achieves fame anyway for what the audience sees as lovable oafishness. 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9 and 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Preceded by a screening of the short The Poet and the Professor, about a writer who is dating one and in love with the other.

Kékszakállú. This film is loosely based on the 1918 opera Bluebeard's Castle, which is loosely based on the French fairytale Bluebeard. These tenuous connections are some of the only things tying this film to the dock of a narrative plot in a sea of dazzling imagery. Part narrative, part documentary, the film follows the daughters of rich Buenos Aires industrialists as they grow up, and is comprised largely of non-actors improvising scenes. The careful symbolism throughout feels heavy with meaning but deliciously open to interpretation. 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9 and 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Spettacolo. In the movie theater, the lights will dim, the credits will run and the curtains will rise in this film about a play about a life. You see, the tiny Tuscan village of Monticchiello began a tradition half a century ago as a way to get together and talk about their issues: each summer, they stage a play, in which all of the villagers play themselves. As the original thespians grow older and the town's younger residents lack interest in participating, and as the town faces more struggles than ever, plot for this year's play is about the end of life as the townspeople know it. 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9 and 2:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13. In Italian with English subtitles. Preceded by a screening of the short Dear Mr. Shakespeare, about the racial themes of and possible intentions behind Shakespeare's Othello.

The Untamed. This film is about a mysterious, be-tentacled alien creature who lives in a cabin in the countryside, and it is about sex: between husband and wife, between husband and brother-in-law, and between human and tentacle creature. It's bizarre and uncomfortable, and it has you reflecting on why you're uncomfortable: is it that death gets brought up throughout the film? Is it the sci-fi aspect? Is it just the sex? And, if you ask us, a film that gets you uncomfortable enough to reflect on your thought process is always worth a shot. One that can do it with beautiful cinematography and solid acting performances, doubly so. Director Amat Escalante was named Best Director for this film's showing at the Venice Film Festival. 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9 and 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Spanish with English subtitles.

Manufacturing Consent. This documentary explores the ideas of Noam Chomsky—sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics"—who was recently hired on as a professor at the University of Arizona. Using evidence such as the massive coverage of communist atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime and Cambodia while the media was silent on the U.S.-supported Indonesian invasion of East Timor, he discusses the government and big media's roles as propaganda machines that "manufacture consent" of the people. The Loft will present Chomsky with The Lofty Achievement Award to honor his contribution to the world of cinema before the screening. 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10. Pre-sale tickets for the screening are sold out, but all-access pass holders are guaranteed a seat, and those passes were still available as of our deadline. Remaining tickets will go on sale at the box office 20 minutes before showtime.

Dog Years. When a beloved pet passes away, Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds), a man in his 80s whose glory days as a Hollywood star are far behind him, starts to look back on his life. When an invitation to receive a lifetime achievement award arrives in the mail, it seems like the perfect way to regain his youth. It's not, exactly. Rather than the classy, black-tie affair he expected, he gets the event equivalent of his driver for the weekend, who is an eye-rolling, texting, cursing millennial woman completely uninterested in hearing about Vic's life (Ariel Winter). As the characters soften during their forced time together, and as the film interweaves footage from Reynold's film career, the audience is treated to a story about looking back, looking forward, and looking inward. 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10 and noon on Thursday, Nov. 16.

The Force. This film tells a story that is at once delicate and explosive, by telling the story of The Oakland Police Department in 2014 as they attempt to make a change, shed their corrupt image and bridge the divide between officers and the community they serve. It's told from the inside of the department, from the inside of police vehicles, from the inside of meetings where a roomful of police officers are reminded that "one police officer can have an impact on his whole country." Director Peter Nicks received the Social Justice Award for his film The Waiting Room at the 2013 Loft Film Fest.  3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10 and 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. With an animation style vaguely reminiscent of the Cartoon Saloon's The Secret of Kells, and unapologetically dark subject matter akin to the likes of Studio Ghibli, this animated film is not for children, or the faint of heart. Pedro Rivero and Alberto Vázquez direct this feature based on Vázquez's graphic novel, which tells the story of a group of critter friends forming a plan to escape their grim, post-apocalyptic island. But an old friend of the group, Birdboy, is haunted by demonic figures, and shuts himself off from the world, not realizing that he might just have the key to change everyone is looking for. 9:45 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10 and 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15. In Spanish. Preceded by a screening of the short LOVE, in which a meteoric impact leaves creatures on a distant planet to explore connection in more ways than one.

Zero Weeks. Citizens throughout the United States find themselves looking at a scale with their jobs on one side and time with a newborn child, caring for an aging parent or beating cancer on the other. Why? Because the U.S. is the only developed nation without paid leave. Award-winning female director Ky Dickens is the first to create a film that tackles this subject, and to make a case for how paid leave makes economic, medical, social and business sense, using touching stories and fact-based testimonies. 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 10 and 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Narrative Shorts. This year's selection of shorts really runs the gamut of genres, narrative styles and aesthetics, so you're sure to enjoy at least one sixth of this presentation. We're pretty sure you'll enjoy most of them though.

Night Shift follows one day in the life of a bathroom attendant for a swanky L.A. nightclub. (16 minutes.)

The Man Who Forgot to Breathe gives away the major plot point of a story where a man has a fight with his wife and then gets into bed. But what happens after he forgets to breathe? (15 minutes, in Kurdish with English subtitles.)

American Paradise tells the story of a desperate man in Trump's America who begins to plot the perfect crime, and is a companion piece to the upcoming feature film The Last Black Man in San Francisco. (18 minutes.)

Dadyaa: The Woodpeckers of Rotha involves two people from a remote village who find themselves in a haunting dilemma when a friend disappears without a farewell. (17 minutes, in Nepali with English subtitles.)

Lostfound shares one day in the life of a woman in the Nation of Islam. (13 minutes.)

Bookends is a story about a young woman returning home, only to remember exactly why she left. (11 minutes.)

Souvenir. Liliane is so used to her simple and routine life as a factory worker that she hardly remembers almost winning a huge European singing competition in her younger days. But when she runs into a dashing 22-year-old whose admiration for her is about as unexpected as her feelings for him, she finds her musical career suddenly reignited. As she begins to learn why her career was cut short in the first place, the audience is reminded that it's never too late to be happy. (French with English subtitles). Preceded by a screening of Love on the Line, a documentary done in animated embroidery about a couple who met online. 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11 and 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13.

The Quay Brothers in 35mm. In the mood for something equal parts beautiful, melancholy and macabre? If you're not familiar with the Quay brothers, they're identical twins who work with stop motion and create pieces that are characterized by dark humor, elaborate miniature sets and dreamlike colors, textures and plots. This program features three of their works curated by Christopher Nolan: In Absentia, The Comb and Street of Crocodiles, as well as Quay, Nolan's 2015 short film documentary about the brothers' studio and process. 9:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11.

My Friend Dahmer. If a man commits his first of 17 murders just weeks after graduating high school, then what was he like in high school? This film, based on the cult graphic novel by Derf Backderf, a former classmate of Dahmer, tells a tale of a troubled home, mental illness, the need for human contact and, ultimately, the makings of a monster. The film is shot not only in Dahmer's hometown, but in his actual childhood home, and former Disney star Ross Lynch gives a haunting performance as teenage Dahmer. Backderf's novel is also this November's Reel Reads selection at the Loft and Antigone Books. 7:45 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12.

Documentary Shorts. The guys and gals over at the Loft really have an eye for this stuff—two of the documentary shorts featured in past Film Fests went on to receive Oscar nominations. So don't miss your chance to see this carefully curated selection of films that let you see the world through new eyes.

Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy. Is four minutes enough time to cover the out-of-control series of events that follows accidentally smuggling cigarettes into the country? Apparently. (4 minutes.)

Abby the Spoon Lady. Abby Roach is one of the only people in the world who makes a living playing the spoons, and that might not even be the most interesting thing about her. (11 minutes.)

Metal Road. Explore one day in the life of the 9001 Heavy Steel Gang, a group of Navajos who maintained the transcontinental railroad network. (27 minutes, English and Navajo with subtitles.)

Hairat. It's been over three-and-a-half decades since Yusuf Mume Saleh began traveling to the edge of his city at night to visit with his friends the hyenas. (6 minutes.)

Ten Meter Tower. At the top of a diving tower, you have to decide whether or not you're really going to face your fear, and whether it's worse to face it or turn back. This film explores the way people look when they go through with—and don't go through with—big decisions. (15 minutes, Swedish with English subtitles.)

Tough. As if mother-daughter relationships weren't difficult enough, this film looks at cultural misunderstandings when a Chinese mother and British-born daughter have their first conversation as adults. (5 minutes, Chinese and English with subtitles.)

Waiting for Hassana. In 2014, 276 girls in Chibok Nigeria went to a school for exams, and by the following morning, the school had almost burnt down and almost all of the girls were gone. Jessica, one of the few girls to not disappear, shares her story. (10 minutes, in Hausa with English subtitles.)

My Father's Tools. Steven Jerome takes us from tree to basket in a film about the art of basket weaving. (7 minutes.)

The Diver. This man's job is to dive into the Mexico City sewer system to repair pumps and unclog gutters! Ahh! (16 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles.)

A Few Things About Robert Irwin. UA Professor Liane Skyler, whose film Brillo Box (3¢ off) showed at the Loft in September,  will be present for the screening of her newest film about light and space artist Robert Irwin. (7 minutes.)

More by Emily Dieckman

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