Although the Phoenix Film Festival is a locally run event, the movies shown feature talent from all over. It was refreshing to see one film that was made by a local, Elise Salomon. Her documentary about L.A.-area indie record label Wild Records and its close-knit group of artists is a complex story.
It's happy and sad and goofy and exciting and frustrating all at once. The multi-dimensional look at these musicians is so heart-warming, heartbreaking, and humanizing that you feel like you know them even though you just heard about them two hours ago.
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While the main thesis of the film follows Reb Kennedy, the label's eccentric Dubliner owner, and his difficulty giving up control of some aspects of his business and adapting to the mp3 world, the heart of the movie focuses on his fatherly connection to his talent.
Predominantly Mexican with a rockabilly sound, these bands were mostly ignored until Kennedy picked them up. Though rockabilly acts rarely break through to the mainstream, Kennedy's ear for talent and one shot recording style is legendary in the scene, which is flourishing in Europe.
Between whirlwind tours across the Atlantic where Wild Records bands like The Rhythm Shakers and Luis and the Wildfires are treated like rock royalty and sell out high-capacity venues, many of the artists struggle to support themselves and their families in the non-supportive American market.
Alcoholism, death, distance, and money issues plague the Wild Records family. Gizzelle, one of the label's bombshell acts with a big voice, debates making a career out of music given the instability of the pay and touring conflicts with raising her daughter. While moments like this and others are touching and even a little disheartening, the group pulls together through hardship and tragedy in a truly inspiring way to push forward. Plus the occasional interjection of random silliness from the band members had the audience giggling and cheering amid the heavier subject matter.
Elise Salomon frequently credits the film's power and message to its editor, Ryan Brown, who had his work cut out for him in sifting through hundreds of hours of footage to lace together a story. She said this is why she gave him a writing credit in the film as well as his editing credit. But while the editing adds a powerful punch to the film, Salomon clearly has a gift for revealing the truth and soul of the story and clearly makes her subjects comfortable enough to tell it all, even the embarrassing stuff.
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Much like the Wild Records, Los Wild Ones itself is an underdog, squeezing its way into the festival circuit. And, like the label's acts, we hope the film gets the recognition it deserves.
Update: Los Wild Ones won "Best Documentary" at Phoenix Film Festival. Check out the PFF website for upcoming show times.