Sound Unseen fest kicks off Wednesday in St. Paul

Movies on the National, Charlie Parr and Grant Hart top the 14th annual film fest for music lovers.

Charlie Parr was sought out by some French filmmakers in a new documentary screening Nov. 17 as part of the Sound Unseen festival., with a performance by Parr afterward.

Photo: Photo by Richard T. Narum,

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After 13 years in Minneapolis, the Sound Unseen festival — a film fest for music lovers — is moving most of its events this year to downtown St. Paul, where organizer Jim Brunzell found a more compact and sensible layout.

Films will be shown at McNally Smith College of Music and the Landmark Center, and the accompanying live gigs will take place at Amsterdam Bar & Hall, all within walking distance of each other. Nightly screenings also still take place at Trylon Microcinema in south Minneapolis.

The offerings are just as spread out and coolly hodgepodge as before. In addition to Wednesday’s opening-night screening/concert with Grant Hart, here are other highlights:

Meeting Charlie Parr

“The music you love should make you vibrate.” So says this film’s subject, the Duluth-based picker of resonator guitars, fretless banjos, murder ballads and working-class story songs. The shy and humble Parr is not exactly vibrant as an on-screen presence, and the miles of footage shot rolling down U.S. highways by the film’s French filmmakers gets old fast. Still, the foreign perspective on Parr adds to the appreciation for his uniquely American music, which is heard often enough to keep things vibrating. (5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 17, McNally Smith College of Music, 19 E. Exchange St., St. Paul.)

Mistaken for Strangers

This documentary on Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati indie-rock heroes the National is filmed from the perspective of frontman Matt Berninger’s kid brother Thomas, a goofy metalhead who still lives at home with their parents and is given a seemingly out-of-pity job as a roadie. He turns it into a documentarian gig, too, one with built-in access and a disarming ability to lightly annoy everyone. Both serve the film well. The results show a lighter side to a band that’s dour-as-death on record. There’s also an undercurrent about adult-sibling relationships that’s fascinating. (7 p.m. Sun., Nov. 17, McNally Smith.)

Other standout films

Thursday, Nov. 14: “Death Metal Angola,” about an unlikely rock concert in the war-torn African nation (7 p.m. Thu., Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls.); “The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkinsand “Hot Pepper,” the latter about late zydeco bandleader Clifton Chenier, both by documentarian Les Blank. (9 p.m. Thu., Trylon).

Friday, Nov. 15: “Filmage,” a profile of California punks the Descendents and offshoot band ALL (7 p.m., McNally Smith)

Saturday, Nov. 16: “Death to Prom,” a locally made feature film about nerdy high school friends in a love triangle with music by Cloud Cult, Tapes ’n Tapes, Pink Mink and more (7 p.m., McNally Smith); “From Nothing to Something,” about the creative methods of Tegan & Sara’s Sara Quinn, comedian Maria Bamford and other artistic thinkers (7 p.m., Trylon); Peaches Does Herself,” a semi-fictitious account of sex-romp rocker Peaches’ real-life ascent (9 p.m., McNally Smith).

Sunday, Nov. 17: “Born in Chicago,” a SXSW Film Fest entrant on the city’s first wave of transplanted blues players (5 p.m., Trylon); “Les Blank Retrospective,” including short docs on bluesman Mance Lipscomb and fiddler Tommy Jarrell (7 p.m., Trylon).

Live music

All at Amsterdam Bar & Hall, 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul.

Thursday: We Want the Airwaves (Ramones tribute), Ex-Nuns, Animal Lover (10 p.m., $5).

Nov. 15: Mayda, MaLLy, Shiro Dame (10 p.m., $6-$8).

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