For four summers, Chris Johnson has sought to reanimate the rough, raw origins of blues at his annual Deep Blues Festival. Now he's expanded with a wintertime film event over the next two Saturdays at the St. Paul Eagles Club.
The Deep Blues Film Festival "gets back to the real roots of the music," said Johnson. Many of today's performers are discovering and playing this music -- as Johnson proved with the 70-some acts he assembled last summer -- but they are mainly outsiders ignored by the mainstream.
All of the films were chosen by Johnson because of their connection to artists in his music fest. The highlight is director James Petix's "It Came From Detroit" (4:30 p.m. Sat.), which chronicles the city's garage-rock movement from the late '80s, with such bands as the Gories, to the White Stripes' rise to fame. Although the film focuses mainly on rock acts, it's clear how strongly they were influenced by blues, Johnson said. "Detroit" succeeds both as a satisfactory text on the musicians, clubs and record stores that made up the scene, and as an introduction for those who are unfamiliar with the topic.
The most emotionally expressive and photographically accomplished film is director M.A. Littler's "The Folksinger" (6 p.m. Sat.), in which the title character searches for meaning while touring the country playing the music he loves. The film asks a lot of tough questions about purpose, goodness and spirituality. It's paired with "Can't Take It With You When You Die!" (7:45 p.m. Sat.), a 40-minute short about Reverend Deadeye, who makes a cameo in "The Folksinger" (and will perform live Saturday night). Deadeye plays a bit while explaining his life philosophy, and why he lives out of his van.
"The Hand of Fatima" (3 p.m. Sat.) is directed by Augusta Palmer, daughter of musician and critic Robert Palmer -- whose book "Deep Blues" gave Johnson's festival its name. The film is a personal, touching exploration of Augusta attempting to connect with her father after his death at age 52 from liver failure. She travels to Jajouka in Morocco, a place her father loved and wrote about passionately, to learn more about herself and come to terms with why her father often wasn't there for her.
"Wayne County Ramblin'" (noon Sat.), written and directed by Dan Rose, is the most bizarre and low-fi film on the schedule. Its sprawling road-trip plot line features Iggy Pop as a grandpa to the main character.
Lastly, "Moments and Truths" is well, some moments -- driving, walking, staring off, playing music -- with the local band Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank.