The Newport Beach Film Festival series of music-themed pictures returns for a second year with a new partner, the OC Music Awards, and a program that has been expanded to 12 films, including three can't-miss documentaries.
The best is Under African Skies from Joe Berlinger, the award-winning filmmaker known for Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and the Paradise Lost trilogy that helped free the wrongly convicted West Memphis Three. A 2005 Newport Beach festival player with Gray Matter, which chronicled the slaughterhouse research of children deemed inferior by Nazis in Austria, Berlinger returns with a film that heralds the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon's masterpiece Graceland—and all the controversy that surrounded it.
Catchy songs such as "Homeless," "You Can Call Me Al" and the title track have become so ubiquitous—Muzak versions are now soundtracks for teeth cleanings—that it's easy to forget the shitstorm their original releases unleashed. Simon broke a United Nations cultural embargo by traveling to apartheid-era South Africa to record with black musicians and the a capella troupe Ladysmith Black Mambazo. When the legendary singer/songwriter returns to a now-free South Africa for a Graceland reunion show, it's obvious the wounds remain (screens April 29 and May 2).
Newport Beach Film Festival opens April 26. For show times, locations, tickets and other details, visit newportbeachfilmfest.com. Through May 3.
Bad vibes also run deep in Roger Paradiso's jaw-dropping I Want My Name Back, which examines the hell hip-hop-pioneering original members of the Sugarhill Gang encounter trying to sing the songs they wrote, recorded and first performed in the late 1970s. That's because the group's name, tunes such as "Rapper's Delight" and "Apache," and even the stage names of Wonder Mike and Master Gee are owned by Sugarhill Records and the deceased label owner's son Joe Robinson Jr., who tours as the "original" Master Gee and Sugarhill Gang (April 27 and April 30).
Struggles of musicians who've made it (Suicide Silence ), never been heard of (Forever Came Calling) and fall somewhere in between (Mike Posner and Never Shout Never's Christofer Drew) are presented in No Room for Rockstars, a very low-tech but highly worthy behind-the-scenes look at the 2010 Warped Tour. Director Parris Patton somehow cut 300 hours of footage down to compelling, criss-crossing stories that prove no matter where you rank on the fame food chain, you have to work your ass off to succeed (May 1).
Documentaries that were not previewed: the world premiere of Blue Planet: Sounds, which world-renowned Laguna Beach marine artist Wyland made about a blues tour he mounted to draw attention to the 2010 Gulf oil spill (April 28); Judy Chaikin's The Girls In the Band, which rights the wrong of female horn players being marginalized throughout jazz history (April 28 and April 30); Andrea Meyerson's I Stand Corrected, a profile of talented bassist Jennifer Leitham, who started her jazz career as John Leitham (April 29); Ernesto Contreras and Jose Manuel Cravioto's Being: Café Tacuba, a behind-the-scenes look at Mexico's 20-year-old rock band traveling the world (April 30 and May 3); and Jesse Vile's Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, about an electric-guitar protégé from the late '80s diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease at the tender age of 20 (May 3).
Stunning visually and sonically, director Tom Gustafson's magnifico-titled dramedy Mariachi Gringo finds a young man who lives somewhere near corn fields getting hooked on the mariachi music an elderly Mexican gent plays in a taco joint in town. Señor takes el gringo under his wing, and faster than you can say, "Holy, Mr. Miyagi," our young hero is onstage in Mexico, in full mariachi wear, impressing the locals with his Spanish singing and guitar licks. (April 27, with an accompanying Friday Night Showcase party, and April 30).
Destin Daniel Cretton's downer drama I Am Not a Hipster is about an insufferable asshole (Dominic Bogart), who moonlights as a singer/songwriter in San Diego. The hipsters are the adoring audiences the guy hates. He also can't stand his dad, his best friend, the groupies he bangs—hell, everyone except the small fries in the school where he teaches and his adorable sisters, who all appear to have come from different parents. There is snappy music from the indie scene south of us, but I must confess the protagonist had me thinking of a new place to stow his guitar (April 27, with the Friday-night party).
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Unpreviewed music features: Ryan O'Nan's The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, about a sibling duo setting off for one last tour to determine whether they should abandon their childhood dream (April 27, with the Friday-night party, and May 1); Sara Sugarman's Vinyl, based on the true story of 1980s Welsh punk band the Weapons of Happiness who, on the verge of obscurity, punked the rock world by releasing a hit song under a fake band name in 2004 (April 28); and the world premiere of Konrad Begg's Songs for Amy, about a tormented Irish singer/songwriter creating an album to redeem for mistakes he made with his true love (May 1, with an Irish Spotlight film party, and May 3).
This article appeared in print as "Sounds and Fury: Newport Beach Film Festival's music series makes more noise."
 A correction was made on April 19. The band's name was misspelled in the original.