Jack Garner: 'His Girl Friday' is just the tip of the High Falls Film Festival

05:00 AM, Apr 10, 2013

Screwball comedy 'His Girl Friday' will be shown Sunday at the Central Library. (Provided by George Eastman House)/

Written By | Jack Garner

Festival time fast approaches. And it starts for this eager movie fan with the welcome return of the High Falls Film Festival, April 18 through 21.

The re-invented festival goes back to its original premise of extensively spotlighting the efforts of women in film, showcasing 27 screenings from 13 countries, from the United States to Turkey to Norway. There are films from as close as Rochester and as far away as Iran.

The festival will get an early start Sunday with special showings of one of Hollywood’s great screwball comedies, His Girl Friday (1940). The film turns the tables on classic newspaper saga The Front Page by shifting the star reporter from a man to a woman (thereby symbolizing a lot of what the High Falls Film Festival advocates).

Rosalind Russell delivers a madcap gem as that reporter, Hildy Johnson. Cary Grant plays her editor and ex-husband, Walter Burns. Hildy wants to quit newspapering to marry her new love (Ralph Bellamy), but Walter uses every trick in the book to keep her around. She’s an essential reporter, and he also doesn’t want her to remarry.

In a unique collaboration among the festival, WXXI and the Central Library of Rochester, His Girl Friday will be shown in two different ways. Viewers can watch it at 2 p.m. Sunday (April 14) on WXXI-TV or go to the Gleason Auditorium (in the newer Central Library building) for a screening of the film at 1 p.m., followed by a panel discussion with the High Falls festival staff. Either way, it’s a wonderful film, a bona fide masterpiece from Hollywood’s screwball era, directed by the great Howard Hawks.

The festival proper gets started on April 18, with the opening film, a documentary I highly recommend titled The Girls in the Band. I recommend it so highly, in fact, that I’m proud to host a post-screening Q&A with its director, Judy Chaikin. Chaikin is a graduate of American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women and is best known for writing, producing and directing the Emmy nominated PBS documentary Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist. In 2004 she received her second Emmy nomination for the documentary Building on a Dream.

The Girls in the Band perfectly hits my sweet spot, between movies and jazz, as the movie masterfully explores the long struggles of female musicians for respect, and an equal space among the creators and performers of jazz.

The film delves into the early days of jazz and then moves by degrees into the modern era. You’ll hear music and stories by such pioneers as The Ada Leonard Orchestra, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and Lil Harden Armstrong, and later artists like Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Melba Liston and noted Eastman School graduate Maria Schneider.

The Girls in the Band has won audience favorite awards at films festivals in Palm Springs, Calif.; Victoria, British Columbia; Omaha, Neb.; and elsewhere. The film will open our festival at 6:30 p.m. April 18 at Little Theatre 1, with a repeat screening at 4 p.m. April 19 at The Cinema.

I’ll recommend other High Falls festival offerings in next week’s column.

MUSIC IN THE AIR. Former Rochester resident and world-class vibraharpist Joe Locke will perform at 8 p.m. April 20 as part of the Exodus-to-Jazz series at the Hochstein School auditorium. He’ll lead his current quartet, featuring pianist Ryan Cohan, drummer Jaimeo Brown and bassist Lorin Cohen in two sets of “Blues & Ballads,” based on the material from his superb forthcoming album, Lay Down My Heart.

The disc is scheduled for release May 14, but an early listen reveals a lovely range of originals, and such standards as bluesy versions of “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Makin’ Whoopee,” and a graceful interpretation of the ballad “Dedicated to You.”

In his album notes, Locke writes that the disc “brought me back to my earliest days of music-making in Rochester, at the F&S Lounge, Jenks ‘n’ Jones, and the Peoples’ Club, where the music was part of the social fabric, and the audience and musicians were definitely involved in a two-way conversation. It taught me that jazz is, and should always be, People Music.”

Also on April 20, The Bop Shop, 1460 Monroe Ave., Brighton, will present a free 1 p.m. concert by 86-year-old blues and jazz pianist Boyd Lee Dunlop. The veteran performer had sunk into near-oblivion at a Buffalo nursing home, until he was inadvertently discovered by photographer Brendan Bannon (the talented son of former Eastman House director, Anthony Bannon). Brendan helped get Dunlop into a studio, where he made two fine albums.

The Boyd Lee Dunlop appearance is part of ongoing activities at area record stores, to mark national Record Store Day.