Films in the first year of the XPN festival explored the work of musicians like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Paul Simon.
University of Pennsylvania’s radio station, 88.5 WXPN, hosted its first annual music film festival this past weekend. Thursday, April 26, night opened the weekend’s events at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center, just blocks from the radio station.
Festival attendees flocked to the festival’s opening film, “Big Easy Express,” which documents the adventurous journey of indie-folk acts Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show as they set out for a tour from Oakland to New Orleans by vintage train.
The bands intended to play music across the country “the way they [audience members] saw it 100 years ago,” prompting the tour name, the Railroad Revival tour.
“Well over 100 people were on the train,” director Emmett Malloy, who also directed “The White Stripes Under Great Northern Lights,” said. “The bands brought their friends and families. It was definitely chaotic.”
During the week and a half excursion, the tour stopped in six cities along the nearly 3,000-mile route for sold out live performances along the railroad’s course.
On opening night, audience members at the screening clapped their hands and stomped their feet to scenes of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ live performance of “Home.”
“I thought the [Big Easy Express] was great,” said festival attendee Keith Gibialante. “It has a good buzz about it, good story line and great music.”
The jubilant ambiance that was evident in performances shown in the documentary was also seen at the screening.
“I honestly got lost in the movie to the point that I felt like I was at a concert,” festival attendee Naomi Small said. “The experience was fun.”
With a film crew of eight people, Malloy filmed from the moment the bands woke up, often into the late hours of the night. For the documentary to be “successful,” Malloy said he intended to be a fly on the wall.
“I wanted to keep the vibe chill so [the bands] would be comfortable and relaxed,” Malloy said. “When I filmed the White Keys documentary I learned how to blend in. I wanted the bands to act naturally as if no cameras were there.”
Malloy’s documentary was one of 20 films screened at the festival.
Mark Ford’s documentary, “Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots,” also hit festival screens on Saturday and Sunday night. The film recounts the Los Angeles riots and the role that hip-hop played in the chaos.
Probably the most memorable film of the whole weekend was “Sound of Noise,” a comedy based on a cop with an “allergy” to music, who must face a gang of terrorist drummers that lead a symphonic attack on his city.
The diverse array of films brought out a lot of viewers to XPN’s festival, which was hosted in part by the Philadelphia Film Society.
General manager of WXPN, Roger LeMay said he hopes to expand the annual festival next year. LaMay added that he intends to add live events and pair movies and musical performances.
Joseph Schaefer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.