The 2019 BendFilm Festival opens Thursday evening, kicking off a long weekend of independent film celebration at venues in Bend, Redmond and Madras. Along with screenings from morning till late into the night, BendFilm hosts panel discussions, parties and Sunday’s awards celebration, where $10,500 in prize monies will be awarded — including the coveted $5,000 Best of Show prize.
With an array of narrative features, documentaries and short-film blocks, discerning festivalgoers will have their scheduling work cut out for them (if you miss something, you could always consider becoming a BendFilm member, which includes access to its considerable library).
The phrase “something for everyone” applies here: Outdoors enthusiasts, comedy lovers, woke folks craving meaty documentaries will all get their moments. For a full guide and schedule visit bendfilm.org.
For music fans, 2019 is an especially promising year. From short films such as “Adam & Eve Eat Again,” about a music duo trying to get along and play, to classics such as Jonathan Demme’s legendary Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense,” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” the 2006 rock musical about a transgender German transplant living in Kansas and searching for love and stardom.
Documentary filmmaker Jordan Albertsen tells the story of a 1960s Seattle-area rock quintet in “Boom: A Film About The Sonics,” a passion project 10 years in the making.
Albertsen’s fondness for the band goes back even further, to the mid-’90s, when Albertsen was introduced to the little-known Tacoma, Washington, group — cultishly adored by fans and musicians such as Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen — by his father.
“He introduced me to the band when I was about 13,” Albertsen said. “He walked by my room when I was a kid and I was listening to, I think it was Nirvana. And he said, ‘Hey, you should check out The Sonics.’”
As an ardent punk fan, Albertsen, 36 now, didn’t expect his Eagles-loving dad to make a worthwhile music suggestion — and then his father found and gave him a copy of the 1966 Sonics album “Boom.”
The group’s volume and aggression were ahead of their time. (It is suggested that The Sonics were the first punk rockers — which may catch some Ramones fans off-guard.)
“That was sort of the beginning of my love for that band,” Albertsen said. The Sonics broke up by 1966 or ’67 — no one really remembers, Albertsen said — and former Sonics members were surprised whenever they got hints that adoration for the band had mushroomed in its absence.
The Sonics reunited in 2007, and the following year, Albertsen made the trip up from Los Angeles, where he was trying to make a go of a film-making career, to join his dad at the group’s first Seattle show of the tour.
“As a music fan, you know, when you get drunk with your friends (you ask), ‘Who do you want to reunite?’ And, like, The Sonics were so far off the radar for a reunion, because there were never interviews with them or anything … they were kind of a mystery,” he said.
The show was “earth shaking,” and Albertsen left inspired to make a film about the band.
“I spent all night searching the internet until I could find an email address for the band,” he said. “I wrote this crazy-long pitch of this movie I’d want to make.”
He received a positive response from famed Seattle musician Buck Ormsby, a bassist and the man behind Etiquette Records, The Sonics’ label. Ormsby was their producer.
“The magic of The Sonics is that, when they went to record, instead of doing what every other producer would have done at the time — (tell) them to turn it down and try to dial the songs in and play them slower — Buck was like, ‘Hey, f--k it man, this is great. Don’t touch it. Don’t change this.’ It was one take for every song,” Albertsen said. “It wasn’t like they were trying to create punk or anything or be that aggressive loud band. They were just kids, man.”
With Ormsby on board with the film project, so followed the band. The next step was to secure fundraising.
“For any filmmaker, always the biggest hurdle,” Albertsen said. “For this film, it wasn’t just a hurdle, it actually never happened. The film never got financed. It was insane.”
Five years ago, his Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign failed, sending him reeling.
“I was living in Hollywood, and I had a bunch of other films I was working on, and they all fell apart around the same time,” he said. “It was a total rock bottom kind of thing.”
He and his now-wife moved to Bozeman, Montana, where Albertsen started working in a sushi restaurant. Around that same time, in 2016, Ormsby died, dealing the film a near-fatal blow.
“He was my connection to rock stars,” Albertsen said. “He was the guy that was going to make these connections happen.”
And then one day Mike McCready, lead guitarist of Pearl Jam, walked into the restaurant with his family.
“I go, ‘Holy s--t, you’re Mike McCready,” Albertsen said. “And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for, like, eight years. I’m making this film about The Sonics.’ And I just sort of vomited this thing to him … and he was just so cool. He was like, ‘I’ll be in your movie.’ It was like, all of a sudden, it reignited the movie.”
For years, Albertsen had been sending out emails into the void of various bands’ management teams.
“No one ever wrote me back,” he said. “I probably sent out a thousand emails over the course of at least eight years. It was so hard and depressing.”
But with McCready on board, Albertsen was able to reach musicians, such as Heart’s Nancy Wilson, directly.
“He just sort of, like, texted her. Next thing I knew I had Nancy Wilson texting me back,” he said.
The film’s completion has helped The Sonics better understand their influence, “and how beloved they were by so many people,” he said. “Even after the reunion thing and the touring, it was still kind of this thing that was strange to them.”
When they showed up for the U.S. premiere of “Boom” last year in Tacoma, Washington, “It seemed like it finally started to make sense, like they had to sit through a movie in this sold-out theater, and kind of go, ‘Whoa.’”
“Boom” has rekindled Albertsen’s fire for filmmaking. He’s still working at the sushi place while he looks for financing of his next project, a narrative feature titled “Bastards of Young.”
“Yeah, man. I’m back,” he said.
‘I Want My MTV’
Pioneering MTV veejay Alan Hunter will be on hand at BendFilm to introduce “Stop Making Sense,” and he’ll be in attendance at the Tower Theatre Saturday for the screening of “I Want My MTV,” a documentary about the early days of MTV, which launched in August 1981.
When initial auditions were held a year prior, “They started auditioning primarily radio personalities,” Hunter said. “And then they discovered that radio personalities don’t always work on TV. … Then they really hit rock bottom by going to actors like me. What can you say?”
Hunter (and his dry wit) moved to New York from his home of Alabama in 1980 to give acting a go. Fellow first-wave veejay Nina Blackwood was also an aspiring actor, while their colleagues Mark Hunter and J.J. Jackson were already “esteemed radio jocks,” Hunter said, and Martha Quinn was a young intern at NBC Radio.
Hunter tended bar, waited tables and otherwise did “all the cliche things you do to stay alive in New York as a young performer,” he said. After only nine months in New York, he had a chance meeting with Bob Pittman, creator of MTV. It’s a “right place, right time” story, he said.
At that time, citizens from each state would have a reunion picnic in Central Park. Because Hunter had gone to college in Mississippi, he attended the one from that state — also Pittman’s home state.
“I had shorts and flip flops on. It was a Saturday. He had a suit on in the middle of Central Park,” Hunter said. “He said he was working on some cable channel that would play music videos. I said, ‘That’s funny. I just did a video with David Bowie.’”
It’s true. By coincidence, Hunter was hired to be one of the dancers in the video for the Bowie song ‘Fashion,’ for which he was paid $50 and got to meet Bowie. So Hunter understood what a music video was, even if he didn’t quite understand what Pittman was getting at.
Two days later, he was invited to audition. “I said, ‘What is it?’ It wasn’t on the air yet. No one had ever done it. I thought, ‘What, are we going to be playing records in front of the TV?’ ‘There’s not that many videos.’”
MTV would become a media juggernaut, practically inventing reality TV with “The Real World” and other programs, but at first, Hunter said, “It was a slow burn.”
At the start, only a couple of million people had access to it via their cable stations, he said.
“The whole game back then, of course, was trying to get one cable station after the next to pick up your channel.”
A lot of people were located in the Midwest and Plains states.
“The major markets of New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco didn’t have MTV. The cable systems didn’t believe in it,” he said. “For a year we did the show out of Manhattan and had pretty good anonymity, unless somebody from New Jersey came in for the weekend.”
A month into it, Hunter was doing MTV by day, and still had his bartending job at night.
“I didn’t know how long this MTV thing was going to last,” he said. “I was bartending one night when a guy started looking at me sideways and said, ‘Is your name something-Goodman?’ I said, ‘No, it’s not.’
“It still didn’t dawn on me that he was looking at me because he saw me on MTV. He lived in Jersey, and they had it. I said, ‘Alan Hunter.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, Alan Hunter, that veejay dude on MTV, this new thing I’m seeing on my cable system.’
Hunter quit bartending, and of course went on to a lengthy stretch with MTV that lasted until 1987, interviewing the likes of Madonna, U2’s Bono and The Edge, “artists no one knew until they were exposed on MTV that would go on to be so iconic. Those were joys.”
The highlights of his MTV career are countless, from interviewing Mick Jagger and Tina Turner at Live Aid in 1985 to the time he spoke to a wild and woolly Ozzy Osbourne.
“His wife said he was taking cold medicine for his sickness, and that’s why he was a little loopy. Yeah, sure,” Hunter said.
The “bookend” of his career involved going to Russia when Billy Joel performed there in 1987.
After his time at MTV, Hunter diversified into film and TV production work, helped launch an Alabama film festival, and today can be heard on SiriusXM Radio.
The 1980s, he said, were “an amazing decade. Reagan was the president. It was the me decade. It was a decade of greed. People were doing better economically, at least some people were.
“And there, at the other end of the spectrum, was the irreverent MTV, which was constantly poking its eye in the finger of the establishment. MTV made parents around American’s hair light on fire because it was so subversive. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll on display on their cable TV. 24 hours a day, ruining their children’s minds.”
‘WBCN and the American Revolution’
Similarly subversive, albeit a decade and change earlier than MTV, was Boston FM radio station WBCN, credited with ushering in rock on FM radio in the late 1960s.
Prior, WBCN was a struggling, sleepy classical music station begging listeners to help keep it afloat. Ray Riepen, a lawyer and founder of the Boston Tea Party, a famed concert venue where the likes of Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin performed, is the man who had the idea of playing rock music on late at night.
‘WBCN’ filmmaker Bill Lichtenstein was there in the early days, from a young age. At 14, he was a ninth grader in an open education program. Tasked with getting a volunteer job one day a week, he initially answered the listener line.
“It was sort of the Google of its time. Like any question, if you need a ride, you’re suicidal, whatever, call,” he said. A month or so later, he was sent on assignment to a Black Panther demonstration. Eventually he was given on-air work, and later got a weekend radio show.
Riepen “had a very keen entrepreneurial mind,” Lichtenstein said. “He looked at Boston and saw it was lagging behind San Francisco and New York, in ’67 at least, in terms of the influx of the counter culture and hippies and what was going on.”
When Riepen opened the Boston Tea Party club, “he realized there were all these bands coming there that people were lining up to see, but you couldn’t hear their music on the radio,” Lichtenstein said.
Once WBCN began playing rock, “It was overwhelming. They asked people to send a postcard, and suddenly they couldn’t get in the front door because it was mailbags filled with postcards from Harvard and MIT and Newton High School.
“It was so listened to, and we describe it in the film, that you could just walk down the streets of Boston, and people were literally just putting their speakers out the window and turning up the music. At one point, Charles Laquidera, one of the announcers in the film, says ‘You could walk from one end of Boston to one end of Cambridge, and walk the whole way without a radio, but you could hear BCN the entire way.’ … People would just blast it everywhere.”
Like Alan Hunter, Paul Starkman, the filmmaker behind narrative feature “Wheels,” is a veteran of MTV, albeit behind the camera, where he began working on shows such as “The Real World.”
Being a camera operator took him deeper into the world of competition reality shows — “basically food, tattooing” — he said.
“I always wrote in my spare time, but my career took me a cameraman’s route into reality TV, and then into directing reality TV, but my dream was always to make a film,” said Starkman, who directed “Top Chef” for seven seasons.
That film is “Wheels,” his first writing credit, based on a concept the 45-year-old filmmaker came up with way back in college. His work in competition shows only inspired him further.
“You see these people that are like, super passionate, across all races, ages old and young. You see them just going for it,” he said. “I was like, you know what, it’s my time to go for it and do it. And actually, the story of ‘Wheels’ is about that, too … pursuing your dream.”
That’s not the only way this small narrative film, which was funded via Kickstarter and has already garnered a number of prizes at festivals, imitates life. The main character, Max, who struggles to turn passion into career, is played by real-life emcee, actor and dancer Arnstar.
“He’s amazing. I couldn’t find the main character, and (Arnstar) came in on the last day of auditions. His life is in the hip-hop world, and also he’s pursuing his own goals. He is (Max) in a way,” Starkman said, adding that the film is about “something I love. I love an underdog story. I love hip-hop music. And I love Brooklyn.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version “WBCN and the American Revolution” director Bill Lichtenstein was misidentified. The Bulletin regrets the error.