By Sharon Smullen, Eagle Correspondent
In 2017, following an election that divided the country, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir traveled through Southern states embroiled in anti-LGBTQ legislation. They discovered more than they imagined.
David Charles Rodrigues’ award-winning documentary about the tour, “Gay Chorus Deep South,” will screen Thursday in the Tanglewood Learning Institute Cinematics series in Studio E, a wood- and glass-walled auditorium with a suspended screen in the Stockbridge campus’s Linde Center.
“It’s one of the most powerful documentaries about music I’ve ever seen,” said Sue Elliott, TLI’s inaugural director. “It shows several of the choristers reckoning with their personal histories with the world at large. It’s inspirational and quite an emotional journey.”
For a post-screening Q&A, “we’re bringing Berkshire Choral International executive director Steven Smith, who took a Boston ensemble on a similar tour,” she said.
A Berkshire International Film Festival collaboration, Cinematics presents music-inspired narrative and documentary features monthly year-round and weekly during the summer.
Since its debut last June, the series has proven popular with local and visiting audiences. “We had a very busy summer, and kicked off with weekly Sunday night films,” Elliott said. “People love it and we get wonderful feedback. [Some] were there every single Sunday.
“It connected filmgoers more broadly and deeply to the repertoire being performed at Tanglewood, and gave us a chance to welcome new people who came because they were film buffs. It was a really gratifying series to produce.”
Several titles first screened at BIFF. “‘Gay Chorus Deep South’ was so popular, we’re bringing it back for an encore screening,” said BIFF artistic director and founder Kelley Vickery by phone from Sundance Film Festival where she was scoping out films for BIFF’s upcoming 15th anniversary.
“It won the 2019 audience award at BIFF and awards all over the country,” Vickery said. “It’s about choral music, but really it’s a film about humanity. It’s the most uplifting, beautiful film, and brings you to tears a couple of times.”
Vickery has watched local interest in film grow over the years.
“It makes me very happy that independent film is celebrated in the Berkshires the way music, dance, theater and art is,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”
BIFF presents 80 films over its late May festival weekend, and year-round programming has quadrupled with screenings at several venues.
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“When Sue approached me about collaborating on bringing films to TLI, it was a no-brainer,” Vickery said. “We’re adding TLI as a BIFF-screening venue this year, and we’re very excited about that.”
Audiences can expect an eclectic lineup. “I love music of all kinds, from classical to jazz to pop to country, and I can’t get enough of Tanglewood,” Vickery said. She is on the lawn every summer Sunday, and raised her children going to BSO open rehearsals.
To program Cinematics, Vickery prepares a list of possible titles, augmented with suggestions from Elliott’s extensive music documentary library.
“Often, we’ll look for specific topics together, it’s very collaborative,” said Elliott, who is drawn to films that “make me think and make me feel.” With an opera background, “a good narrative is pretty important,” she said.
Selections include documentaries about musicians and composers, and features with exceptional soundtracks. A recent film about Jewish songwriters who composed Christmas songs “was one of our best ever,” Elliott said.
Variety is important, she noted, offering “different perspectives in hopes we’ll connect with more and more people.” Plans include an anniversary series inspired by the Berkshires’ legendary Music Inn.
Other TLI programming includes workshops, talks, immersive weekends and performances. Except for BSO concerts, every event is a collaboration with local organizations.
Cinematics furthers TLI’s mission as a multi-disciplinary initiative, helping to “find ways to broaden and deepen our participants’ understanding of music,” Elliott said.
The series continues March 5 with recently released Aretha Franklin 1972 concert film “Amazing Grace;” followed April 2 with “That Part Feeling” on acclaimed composer Arvo Part, and “Echo in the Canyon” on May 7, celebrating 1960s popular music of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, from the Byrds to the Beach Boys.
Family programming includes “Dutch Animation Celebration” on Feb. 15 and “Viva Kid Flicks,” Spanish language short films Feb. 22, both at 10 a.m. with $6 youth tickets and special activities.
Cinematics tickets are $12. Starting Feb. 9, the Main Gate box office will open for in-person ticket purchases; see hours online. Refreshments are sold in the lobby one hour beforehand.
“We’ve seen really great audiences as we’ve developed a loyal following,” Elliott said. “With almost 200 people in terms of capacity, it’s a lovely venue to see films in.
“It’s a continuation of something the BSO has been doing for decades, bringing film into the concert hall under the leadership of our wonderful John Williams,” she said. “It just seemed a natural extension of that work.”
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