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Summer Music Film Festival cuts across all genres

2010 New Orleans Jazz   Heritage Festival Presented By Shell - Day 3

2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented By Shell - Day 3

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Summer Music
Film Festival

When: Friday to July 2

Where: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport

Tickets: $10; double features $15; pass, $70

Info: (773) 871-6607;

Updated: July 30, 2013 7:19AM

Jacob Hatley first met Levon Helm in 2007 when he traveled to Woodstock, N.Y., to shoot a music video with the legendary drummer. But something larger and much more intriguing grew out of that visit.

“The spontaneous stuff we were shooting around the video shots was so interesting,” Hatley recalled. “There was clearly something happening here that was worth documenting.”

Hatley returned three months later to begin shooting what would become 400 hours of footage for the documentary “Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm.” The filmmaker spent three years shadowing Helm’s daily routine — musical performances, storytelling sessions, doctor visits and songwriting collaborations.

“Ain’t in It for My Health” (½) is one of 11 films screening at the Summer Music Film Festival, now in its third year at the Music Box Theatre. The Helm doc will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday; 6 p.m. Saturday and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Hatley did not set out to do a biography of Helm, the drummer and a lead vocalist for the seminal roots-rock group The Band, who died in 2012 at age 71 after years of struggling with throat cancer. If he had gone that route, he doubts Helm would have gone along with it. “Levon was a very private person, so the less said the better,” Hatley said. “We just hung out, and he never told us to stop filming. If we started asking questions, he’d just walk away.”

The informal documentary is a low-key, affectionate character study of Helm and does not dwell too much on the past. There are a few performance film clips of The Band from early on. Helm vents when he is given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with The Band (although he seems happy when his album “Dirt Farmer” wins one). Some of the best moments are the unguarded ones around the kitchen table with family and friends as Helm tells stories and shares wacky tidbits.

Though Helm’s voice was nearly destroyed by radiation treatment, it acquired a ravaged beauty that only enhances his Arkansas drawl on songs such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Near the end of the film, there is a poignant moment as Helm sings a beautiful rendition of “In the Pines” to his new grandson.

Also in the Summer Music fest:

“A Band Called Death” (4 p.m. Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; 9:45 p.m. Tuesday): Back in the early ’70s when Motown ruled, three Detroit kids playing punk rock was an anomaly. But play they did under the name Death. And they were good. But punk wasn’t even punk yet and the band’s music and name scared away labels.

Fast forward three decades and a dusty 1974 demo finds its way to a younger generation of fans. This inspiring film () is part music documentary, part family love story. It follows last year’s “Searching for Sugar Man,” about another forgotten Detroit performer — folk rocker Rodriguez. One wonders what other musical secrets Detroit holds.

“Festival Express” (9 p.m. Friday; 6:30 p.m. Tuesday): The 2003 documentary about a 1970 train tour across Canada, with The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends on board.

“Wild Style” (2 p.m. Saturday; 9:15 p.m. Monday): Featuring prominent figures from the early days of hip-hop in action.

“Downtown 81” (4 p.m. Saturday): Directed by Edo Bertoglio and starring artist Jean-Michel Basquiat this is a real-life look at the subculture of post-punk Manhattan.

“Big Easy Express” (10:10 p.m. Saturday; 8:15 p.m. Tuesday): Another train trip, this time headed for New Orleans with Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford & Sons.

“Anton Corbjin Inside Out” (5 p.m. Sunday): Director Klaartje Quirijns’ portrait of Anton Corbjin, best known as the creative director behind the visual output of U2 and other bands.

“Downloaded” (7 p.m. Sunday): Director Alex Winter’s fascinating documentary dissects the Napster revolution that upended the music business and created a technology paradigm shift. The film (½), the latest in VH1’s “Rock Docs” series, assesses the issue from all angles — the kids who created it, the bands and businesses affected by it and the impact on the world at large. Co-founded by Shawn Fanning (now a video-game creator) and Sean Parker (a founder of Facebook), the firm may not exist anymore but it changed everything about music as we used to know it.

“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (9:15 p.m. Sunday): Dumb teens (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) plus a history assignment and a time machine equals hysterical mayhem. “Downloaded” director Winter hangs around for this blast from his past.

“Approximately Nels Cline,” “In Search of Blind Joe Death” (7:15 p.m. Monday): The first is Steven Okazaki’s documentary featuring Nels Cline, the adventurous lead guitarist for Wilco. The second entry documents the life and legacy of influential composer and guitarist John Fahey.

Mary Houlihan is a free-lance writer.

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