For the second year in a row, I was asked to be a part of the Gasparilla International Film Festival’s jury, tasked with ranking the six documentary features in competition. Easier said than done, as 2013 offers a strong slate of films, four of which fall into the category of music docs — one of my favorites.
My vote for the best doc in competition went to Louder Than Love: The Story of the Grande Ballroom (Wednesday, 10:45 p.m., CineBistro Hyde Park). A eulogy for a building that has long since fallen into complete disrepair, Louder Than Love is actually a celebration of the music of the late 1960s, a time when rock was coming of age and the British invasion was in full effect. Detroit’s Grande (pronounced “Grand-E”) Ballroom served hard-charging Rock ’n’ Roll to ravenous crowds. Sex was everywhere (there were mattresses hidden on catwalks and below the stage in case the mood stuck — which it often did), as was the spirit of freedom and a “we’re all in this together vibe” that still comes across as special all these years later. (If I had a time machine, I would spend years at the Grande.) Featuring extensive interviews with The MC5 (who basically called the place home), Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey (The Who debuted Tommy at the Grande) and many more, Louder Than Love is endlessly fascinating, expertly made and completely enjoyable.
Giving Louder Than Love a run for its money is GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (Saturday, 9:20 p.m., Muvico Centro Ybor). GLOW was a syndicated female wrestling show that ran in syndication from 1986 to 1990, when it was yanked from television at the height of its popularity by ownership that didn’t really understand what it had. I remember watching GLOW as a kid — cheesy wrestling by women, many of them at least kind of attractive, was an easy sell to my 11-year-old self — its kitschy and out-there shtick paving the way for higher-budget female wrestling to come. Featuring extensive interviews with the GLOW girls (who now range from the MILFiest of MILFs to bedridden and confined to a nursing home), and culminating in a heartfelt reunion of the show’s stars, GLOW manages to be more entertaining and touching than many of the dramas you’ll see at the festival.
GIFF’s documentary program includes three music documentaries in addition to Louder Than Love, and each has its charms (though none of them comes close to Love in terms of overall quality). A.M. Mayhem (Saturday, 2:10 p.m., Muvico Centro Ybor) uses archival audio and video clips, along with interviews with the people who were there, to detail the rise and fall of an AM station in Tucson, Arizona that provided the template for the many hip-hop stations that came to dominate the airwaves, especially in the early 2000s. More fun, though maybe less interesting, is Timeless Journey: Orquesta Aragon (Saturday, 9:15 p.m., Muvico Centro Ybor), which tells the story of an orchestra from Cuba that has seen multiple generations of musicians from the same families entertain audiences all over the world for more than 70 years. And finally, there’s Poster Boys or: The Art of Mobile Recording (Saturday, 4:20 p.m., Muvico Centro Ybor), which follows Dunedin Native Brandon Hanick and his longtime musical collaborator Nathan Troutman (they’re both in the band King of Prussia) as they travel the country selling posters as a way to finance the recording of an album. The DIY spirit is infectious.
Finally, there’s The Long Ride Home (Two screenings: Friday, 4:15 p.m., CineBistro Hyde Park; Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Muvico Centro Ybor), which is really nothing like the other docs in competition. Long Ride chronicles a cross-country bike ride by a small group of Iraq vets who are pedaling in memory of a fallen brother. Along the way, we hear their war stories (starting with some gripping “where were you on 9/11” tales) and addressing head on the scourge of PTSD that affects so many veterans. It’s powerful stuff.