The DOC NYC film festival is running this month in New York, featuring a huge program of documentaries from around the world. This year’s festival is especially strong in films about music; here are three of the most notable ones.
Dusty & Stones
The most unlikely great documentary of the year is this one: The story of a couple of cousins from the African nation of Swaziland (now called Eswatini), who pursue country music stardom.
Gazi “Dusty” Simelane and Linda “Stones” Msibi come from that nation in Southeastern Africa, where they sing, play guitar, and write songs that are somewhere between country and the American roots rock tradition (some of their music wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack of Inside Llewyn Davis).
The film, directed by Jesse Rudoy, chronicles Dusty and Stones’ visit to the United States, when they toured the Deep South, participated in a battle-of-the-bands-like competition among non-traditional country acts, and did some recording. There’s an amazing scene where they hear the recorded version of their song for the first time and tear up; you may tear up as well.
And then, in the middle of it all, they’re in proximity to the worst of America, in the form of a mass shooting in Texas.
I wasn’t sure about this film; in fact, I only watched it because another film I was going to include in this roundup wasn’t yet available to be reviewed. But it’s one of the most compelling and joyful music documentaries of the year.
Dusty & Stones does not appear to have distribution yet, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile
I am a lifelong non-fan of country music. But I admit that I absolutely loved this film, which had a front-row seat for Tanya Tucker’s music comeback, which won her two Grammy awards (the first two of her career) in 2019.
The story was that Brandi Carlile, an alt-country star of a different generation, approached Tucker about collaborating on a new album for the then-60-year-old Tucker, who hadn’t released new original music in nearly two decades.
Directed by Kathlyn Horan, the film follows the recording of the album, while also exploring Tucker’s history and earlier career, including her colorful romantic life. It ends triumphantly, with Tucker’s Grammy win.
After a run of festival showings this year that wound up with DOC NYC, The Return of Tanya Tucker is now in theaters.
When you think of James Taylor, you may very well picture him sitting by himself with an acoustic guitar. But in fact, on most of his big hits, JT had a backing band ― an unheralded group of musicians who were also behind some of the most enduring pop hits for the next four decades.
They were known as “The Immediate Family,” and featured five musicians, bassist Leland Sklar, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, guitarist/vocalist Steve Postel, drummer Russ Kunkel, and guitarist-vocalist Waddy Wachtel. They would play in sessions with many, many others, including Keith Richards, Jackson Browne, Phil Collins, and Linda Ronstadt, most of whom are interviewed in the documentary.
Now, The Immediate Family is the focus of a documentary, of the same name. The band members all prove fascinating characters, with wonderful stories to tell. And of course, the film features some truly outstanding music.
The Immediate Family was directed by Denny Tedesco, who also made 2008’s The Wrecking Crew!, which was about a different group of longtime session musicians, the one most associated with the Beach Boys. It’s quite a specific niche, but it’s one that makes sense; Tedesco’s father, Tommy Tedesco, was part of the Wrecking Crew group.
There’s no word yet on distribution, but this one is worth seeking out once it arrives.