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Sisters With Transistors
Sisters With Transistors premieres Sept. 23.

CIFF 2021: Music On Screen Selections

From electronic music's female pioneers to A-ha and the Foo Fighters, CIFF is reeling in the music-makers.

by Christine Leonard

If you’ve had your fill of Downton Abbey and Ridiculousness reruns, the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) has you covered with a catalogue of memorable documentaries that promise edutainment without commercial interruption. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and in this case the sweet sounds of music are the perfect enticement to take a bite out of these toothsome and truthsome tales. CIFF’s Music On Screen selections include some of the best tunage the festival has ever had. 

Directed by Aslaug Holm

An entirely unsolicited take on the band that spawned the iconic 80s anthem “Take On Me”  before disappearing into the Euro ether. Aslaug Holm’s well-coiffed popumentary delves into the untold drama and drive behind A-ha’s phenomenal single and accompanying animated video that propelled teenage dreamboats Morten, Pål, and Magne into the superfame stratosphere, with graphic consequences. TICKETS & INFO

Directed by Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdottir

Who would have thought that a relatively obscure Icelandic BDSM techtronica band could ignite an international firestorm simply by making it to Europe’s biggest battle of the bands? It’s just a stroll through the active-volcano park for vinyl-clad Hatari, a band named for hate but utterly dedicated to spreading love, tolerance, and freedom. Witness their descent into moral crisis and diplomatic chaos as they bring a taste of anti-capitalist activism to the buttoned-down broadcast of the highly commercialized 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv. TICKETS & INFO

Directed by Anita Rivaroli

Remember that wonderful viral video where a field-full of Italians played “Learning to Fly” together in the hopes of attracting American all-star band Foo Fighters to perform in their humble hometown of Cesena? Brainchild of Foonatic music lover Fabio Zaffagnini, the ambitious project is dissected piece-by-piece through tear-jerking (even when subtitled) interviews and immersive live footage of the multitudes who united through music to create a moment that became a movement. This one’s for the drummers. TICKETS & INFO

Directed by Matthew Walker

In her own words, Australian country singer Wanita is either the “Queen of Honky Tonk” or a hopeless “Fuckwit.” But, hey, why split hairs when it comes to the ceaseless quest for stardom? A tasseled trainwreck from the small town of Tamworth, who believes in living life to its fullest, the rebellious diva at the story’s centre pulls honey from the rock one heartbreakingly authentic ballad at a time. Reminiscent of Patsy Cline on a steep decline, Wanita leaves no bottle undrained and no bridge unburned on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land: Nashville. TICKETS & INFO

Directed by Chris Gero

What does music mean to you? Reducing the broadest of queries to a finite point, Chris Gero gets up close and personal with a Universal theme. Moving from person to person like a catchy tune, his documentary’s narrative seeks to illuminate the spiritual, physical and mental aspects of how it impacts, defines and unites us all. Intimate conversations and celebratory jams are all part of the therapeutic approach to exploring why humans are attracted to and generate sounds that raise our hopes and move our feet. Spanning five countries and featuring soulful sit-downs with the likes of Patti Smith, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan and many others, The Sound Of Us sources solace in the healing properties of song. TICKETS & INFO

Directed by Lisa Rovner

Like stepping into a techno time machine, Sister With Transistors unravels the mystery of the invisible hands behind the sounds that shocked a generation. Tracing the history of synths, samples, loops, and improvised effects, filmmaker Rovner unpacks the environmental impetus that drove tonal manipulators like Delia Derbyshire (composer of the classic Dr. Who theme), Suzanne Ciani, Éliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros. Learn how those initial experiments with shaping and moulding sound opened up a new space where women were free to reinvent an art form away from the male dominated music industry. Seizing upon the autonomy afforded by emergent technologies, such as the ones being applied at the BBC’s radio labs, allowed these creative pioneers to become arbiters of their own expression. And the results launched a deep listening revolution that echoed throughout the entire counterculture of the 20th century. Perfectly in sync with the timing of the psychedelic wave of civic outrage sweeping the globe, their electronic music transcended tradition to become a gateway to enhanced consciousness and a future unhindered by organic politics. Mary Shelley, meet your monster. TICKETS & INFO