Documentaries for film festival have music as common thread

2013-11-04T22:06:00Z Documentaries for film festival have music as common threadBy ROB STROUD/JG-TC Staff Writer
November 04, 2013 10:06 pm  • 

CHARLESTON — Music is a common thread that runs through most of the documentaries that will be screened Thursday through Saturday at the Ninth Annual Embarras Valley Film Festival.

The lineup of this festival at Eastern Illinois University includes documentaries that tell the stories of an independent record store in Oregon, a landmark 1970s rock music festival in Chile, and a noted Southern Illinois musician’s legal troubles. The festival also will feature a live, multimedia concert about the small town of America, Illinois.

“While not every film is about music, there is kind of a thread of music throughout the festival. There is a strong music focus,” said Kit Morice, co-project director of the festival. Entry is free and open to the public.

Some of the other highlights include screenings of documentaries about the struggles of the Southern Illinois river town of Cairo, police firing on a student-rental home in Carbondale in 1970, the influence that humans have on the natural environment, and the return of stage actor to his Westfield family farm. Stop motion and short documentary films created by local students also will be shown during this event.

The film festival is an annual event honoring a person or theme related to the Embarras Valley, which encompasses much of East Central Illinois. Morice said organizers decided this year to showcace documentaries with ties to Eastern or the region.

“For almost all of the films, we will have the actual filmmakers here to introduce and to discuss their work,” Morice said.

The screenings will kick off at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Doudna Fine Arts Center Lecture Hall with "Between Two Rivers” about Cairo. This documentary, created by Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan, explores the factors that led to Cairo going from being a booming river town to one with an abandoned, crumbling downtown.

Southern Illinois history also will be the topic of the subsequent screening of “778 Bullets,” directed by Angela Aguayo. This documentary chronicles an incident that occurred in November 1970 at Southern Illinois University in which state and local police shot 778 bullets into an off-campus rental house. The residence was rented to a handful of students who were assumed to be associated with the local Black Panther Party.

The festival will continue at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Doudna Lecture Hall with “Expedition Nature's Realm: The Anthropocene Era” in the Doudna Lecture Hall. This film, created by EIU geographer/climatologist Cameron Craig, is part of a series that explores the coexistence between humanity and nature with vivid images of nature at work in the past and present.

Craig’s film will be followed by “Walls of Sound: A Look Inside the House of Records,” a 2012 documentary created by EIU communications studies professor David Gracon. He discovered this independent vinyl-record focused store, founded circa 1972, while completing his doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

Gracon said store owner Gary Haller and his staff are struggling against the trends of digital downloading and corporate retailers that have driven many small stores out of business. He said stores, such as The House of Records is keeping alive the tradition of providing a place where people can get together to talk about music or more.

“They are a gathering space. They are a place where you can learn not only about music, but about culture as well,” Gracon said.

At 7 p.m. Friday, the Doudna Lecture Hall will host a screening of “Piedra Roja.” This documentary, created by EIU biology professor Gary Fritz, combines film footage taken at the 1970s landmark Red Rock Music Festival in Chile and recent interviews with participants. Discussion of this film will be led by Chuck Koplinski, a film critic for The News-Gazette and Illinois Times.

The festival will move on Saturday to the Tarble Arts Center Atrium, where a matinee at 2 p.m. will feature films created by the festival’s annual Stop Motion Animation Workshop for local youths and by a new short documentary program for EIU students.

Saturday’s matinee also will feature a showing of “One Year’s Crop,” about stage actor Robert Biggs’ family farm in Westfield. Biggs has acted for various venues in New York, for Steppenwolf in Chicago, and for Shakespeare & Company in Berkshire County, Mass., where he and his family now reside.

The festival will close at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with Stace England and the Salt Kings presenting a premiere performance of "America, Illinois." Morice said this rock band creates “historical concept music” about events and places in their native Southern Illinois. Their new music is about the small village of America in Pulaski County.

“They are combining their performance with film clips, so its a multimedia experience,” Morice said.

The Salt Kings act will be followed by "Confidence Man,” with an introduction by producer England and director Bob Streit. This film explores the life, art and legal troubles of Hugh DeNeal, co-founder and primary songwriter for the Southern Illinois band, The Woodbox Gang. A discussion will be led by Dann Gire, a graduate of Charleston High School and EIU, and president and founding director of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

More information is available by going online to or calling the Tarble Arts Center at 217-581-2787.

Contact Stroud at or 217-238-6861.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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