Canada's North By Northeast festival (NXNE) is underway in Toronto and continues through Sunday. The younger sibling to the South By Southwest (SXSW) version of the event held in Austin, Texas, NXNE has been around for 16 years, celebrating emerging talent and the not-so-mainstream acts coming out of Canada and beyond.

While Toronto's stages are crowded with guitars, tattoos and plastic cups full of who-knows-what over the next four days, its movie theatres are set to rock almost as hard. Over 40 films are screening at six venues over 96 hours, covering topics and subjects as varied as the musical landscape.

"I think we are hitting it out of the park this year," says festival film programmer Ambrose Roche. "I think it's doubled in size, close to 50 films. The initial mandate was to tie in interesting films about music. This year I made more of an effort to open it up to be more of an independent film festival. I am hoping this is a showcase for independent-minded films and filmmakers – people on the edge who are flogging their stuff the way musicians have to flog their stuff."
Canada's North By Northeast festival (NXNE) is underway in Toronto and continues through Sunday. The younger sibling to the South By Southwest (SXSW) version of the event held in Austin, Texas, NXNE has been around for 16 years, celebrating emerging talent and the not-so-mainstream acts coming out of Canada and beyond.

While Toronto's stages are crowded with guitars, tattoos and plastic cups full of who-knows-what over the next four days, its movie theatres are set to rock almost as hard. Over 40 films are screening at six venues over 96 hours, covering topics and subjects as varied as the musical landscape.

"I think we are hitting it out of the park this year," says festival film programmer Ambrose Roche. "I think it's doubled in size, close to 50 films. The initial mandate was to tie in interesting films about music. This year I made more of an effort to open it up to be more of an independent film festival. I am hoping this is a showcase for independent-minded films and filmmakers – people on the edge who are flogging their stuff the way musicians have to flog their stuff."

Wednesday, June 16

The opening day includes the feature 'A Gun to the Head', a look at the many years of Notting Hill musical festivities in Carnival, and 'Trimpin: The Sound of Invention' dissects the always-fascinating and complicated sounds of The Kronos Quartet.

Some call them the forefathers of punk, and in 'Do It Again', an all-star cast including Sting, REM's Peter Buck and Paul Weller lend their opinions about getting The Kinks back together. For lovers of the punchy pop '60s act, this is a must.

-- ('Do It Again' screens at 2:30PM at the NFB)

The opening day headliner is the much-ballyhooed world premiere of 'Sounds Like A Revolution'.

"It's one of the biggies," says Roche. "This is a film we know is going commercial with a wider theatrical release after the festival. It's a great launch piece, it shows what can be done politically with music. There are big names, but it shows many levels of having your political say with music."

Following the careers of reggae/rap artist Michael Franti and others who have felt the post-9/11 squeeze on free speech, interviews include a laundry list of healthy dissenters including Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle and Pete Seeger on the current status of the protest song.

Thursday, June 17

Thursday's offerings travel the world, with stops in Africa and Columbia.

Perhaps the most robust in topics, day two of the NXNE Film Festival features musical heavy-hitters like 'When You're Strange: A Film about The Doors' and 'Johnny Cash's America'.

"It's one of my favorite days. There is a weird political subtext to the programming this year... Johnny Cash is certainly representative of that in his indie-populous way. A lot of what 'Johnny Cash's America' is about is his complex relationship with America, and about him explaining the whole 'man in black' thing. It's not just a cool thing, it's a real statement," says Roche.

-- ('Johnny Cash's America' screens at 6PM at the Hyatt Regency Hotel's screening room)

Yousou N'Dour had breakout North American hits in the early '90s and is seen as one of the world's musical unifiers.

"Another one of the political films, it's about someone whose music is certainly joyful and whose impact, almost more than the music, goes beyond writing songs; he rolls up his sleeves and interacts," says Roche.

-- ('Yousou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love' screens at 1PM at the NFB)

Finally, Broken Social Scene fans will get an early look at the much-talked-about Bruce MacDonald-directed concert/rom-com 'This Movie Is Broken'. Tying together a love story with the star-studded concert that includes members of Metric, Stars and the massively popular Feist, NXNE is happy to give festivalgoers the preview.

-- ('This Movie Is Broken' screens at 7PM at the Royal Cinema)

Friday, June 18

Rock stars and vampires. They go together like milk and cookies. First screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009, 'Suck' takes the sharp-toothed genre to the land of metal with Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop all making appearances.

-- ('Suck' screens at 9:45PM at the Bloor Cinema)

While famed alt-country artist Handsome Ned may have passed away nearly 25 years ago, a new documentary about Toronto's Queen Street troubadour will screen as part of the festival. Roche is confident about the film's value.

"I will go out on a limb and say musically it may be the most interesting film we're screening. The big punch is the incredible archival footage of Ned, and his voice is haunted and haunting, so to experience those live performances is an experience in itself," says Roche. "There's much about how Ned went up and down Queen St. self-promoting, a self-primer for any musician, and it also has a strong sense of the Queen St. scene. It's a great intro to the city."

– ('Handsome Ned' screens at 8PM at the NFB)

Saturday, June 19

The final day of the NXNE Film Festival finishes big with a documentary that has been the talk of Cannes and profiled in countless articles. 'Stones in Exile' captures the events and the making of the lauded Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street. While a career low-point for the act, the music that resulted has been universally beloved by both critics and fans.

– ('Stones in Exile' screens at 9PM at the Toronto Underground Cinema)

Meanwhile, in Tromaville, Lloyd Kaufman, the relentless actor/producer/director who brought us 'The Toxic Avenger' (amongst hundreds of other pulp fiction classics), has taken a shot at The Bard with 'Tromeo and Juliet'.

"Lloyd's well-represented this year, he's a showman and a half," says Roche. "There's a novelty factor screening the film and what he is doing is indie on a big scale. There is much to be learned by Lloyd's PT Barnum style of making and promoting film. There's also a whole tie-in with Lemmy of Motorhead being the narrator."

Roche is also promising a Kaufman/Lemmy tribute film that will screen ahead of the feature.

-- ('Tromeo and Juliet' screens at 1PM at the Toronto Underground Cinema)


Catch all the films and all the concerts with a wristband for NXNE. For more information and a complete schedule of all the films, check out NXNE's main site.

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