Music documentary “Good Ear”

Once filmmaker Steve Rudolf had word of his film's acceptance into a festival that was "a great match" in terms of content and vision, he decided to bump up the DVD release and make it available in conjunction with the upcoming April 17 screening. "The Kansas City FilmFest, with its innovative CinemaJAZZ section, is an ideal partner for my film. Combining a festival premiere with a DVD or VOD release is a new and viable way to get indies some much-needed buzz, " Rudolf said.

Studios such as Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban's HDNet Films, as well as independents, use the "day-and-date" model of distribution, which combines a theatrical release with concurrent DVD sales or cable release. But more of the truly independent (read: low-to-no budget) utilize the festival circuit to serve as their de facto theatrical distribution. "It's tough for minor films, " Rudolf says, "but that doesn't mean that the audience isn't there. Piggybacking on festival screenings is just a way to try and make a sound in a very noisy landscape." In some cases, it may bring new life to a project. The core audience of an independent film can be its biggest champions, potentially garnering wider interest.

"Good Ear" is seventy minutes of mind-bending jazz performed by creative musicians who share a love of improvisation and an avoidance of labels. Straight-ahead, avant noise, soundscapes, solo guitar, sampling, duets, African-influenced jams – they're all on display.
The setting is the Angel City Jazz Festival, and the man behind the music is Rocco Somazzi, a Los Angeles promoter and creative-music aficionado. Somazzi had owned clubs, rented venues and managed spaces, but never put on a festival.

The camera acts as a festivalgoer, subjectively taking in the scene at LA's Barnsdall Art Park, with live-painters, sculptures, tall trees, sweeping city views and diverse fans all mixing with the sounds. Performers include Nels Cline, Wayne Horvitz, Satoko Fujii, Andy Milne, Arthur Blythe, Motoko Honda and Leni Stern. The heavy-hitters are joined by newcomers as well. Somazzi's goal was to open up the ears of each group's personal audience, introducing them to some of the many variations that jazz has taken in recent years.

The film has a unique visual style. Graphic distortions and animation-style effects layer on top of the concert footage to create a powerful and transporting experience. Together, the music and images highlight experimentation, improvisation and innovation in modern creative jazz.

The DVD has the feature documentary along with three extras: a performance of the Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura Duo at Cafe Metropol in Los Angeles; a short documentary about Somazzi's efforts to put together the festival; and an interview with live-painter Fumiko Amano. It is available to order at the film's website now, and the CinemaJAZZ screening will be April 17.

Will this model become standard for filmmakers whose voices cannot penetrate the multiplex? Perhaps. One thing is certain: the experimentation in independent film isn't just on the screen.

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