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Tucson music and film festival showcases local documentaries

This past Saturday at Century 20 El Con theater, three local documentary shorts were screened: “Transitions,” “Zoom! Tucson’s Late ‘50s Rock ‘N’ Roll Record Label,” and “Taking Charge: The Pauly Cohen Story.”

The first film screened was “Transitions,” a film by current UA BFA Film Production student Keith Wagner. The seven-minute documentary focuses on Keith’s best friend, Dylan Barr, a college student who was a triathlete throughout high school. After a tragic motorcycle accident kills his father, Barr participates in one more triathlon in his father’s memory.

The production values of the documentary are truly noteworthy. Having interviewed Wagner, I knew he specifically rented a specific camera to shoot in slow motion, and the decision paid off in spades, as the well-executed shots give the already-emotional content even more weight. Along with crystal clear audio, the film is technically pristine. This was an emotionally, and technically, resonant documentary.

Produced by Dan Kruse for a master’s thesis in musicology and ethnomusicology, “Zoom! Tucson’s Late ‘50s Rock ‘N’ Roll Record Label” recounts the story of Arizona natives Burt Schneider and Ray Lindstrom (Catalina High School, class of ’59), who, as entrepreneurial high school students, decided to create their own record label, Zoom Records. After seeing local band Jack Wallace and the Hi-Tones at a dance in their school’s cafeteria, they realized, then and there, that they wanted to record music.

The documentary captures the fleeting nature of young aspirations through the eyes of the dreamers some fifty years later. Zoom Records only lasted seven months, yet Kruse captures Schneider and Lindstrom, who are both now roughly seventy, talking with such animated excitement that they could have just seen Jack Wallace and the Hi-Tones for the first time.

“Taking Charge: The Pauly Cohen Story,” is a biographical piece on the famed big band trumpeter who played with the likes of Sinatra, Count Bassie, and Tony Bennett. The film is not afraid to portray the faults of Pauly, and that’s because Pauly is not afraid to address his own faults. Much of the documentary is comprised of interviews and quotes from Cohen himself, who is not afraid to admit that the bravado and bullheadedness required to play lead trumpet worked against him, at times.

It is a remarkable sight to see someone in the twilight of their life (the movie partially centers itself around Pauly’s 90th birthday party) reflect on how they lived their life, for better or worse. Pauly is a charismatic, brash, sympathetic subject, and director Bret Primack does his remarkable story justice.