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CIMMFest highlights: ‘147 Pianos,’ Brian Wilson, David Bowie docs

"147 Pianos"

October 19, 2013 was like any other day, unless you happened to be inside Lukas Piano Service on Chicago’s West Side. On that Saturday, dozens of pianists of all ages and skill levels had gathered for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which they attempted to simultaneously play all 147 of the ramshackle instruments housed inside the repair warehouse.

When: April 13-17
Where: Various venues
Tickets: Starting at $8 for individual events and $79 for full fest passes
Info: CIMMfest.org

The idea came from DePaul University instructor/director Dolores Wilber, who consulted family and friends and used social media and Craigslist to attract performers. With the help of 50 fellow teachers and students, the unrehearsed experience was then captured for “147 Pianos,” a documentary that premieres this week as part of the eighth annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest).

Alongside intense recitals of Chopin, Joplin and “Chopsticks,” there is also poignant commentary from lead conductor Vic Muenzer, lead pianist Mikel Patrick Avery and Lukas owners Ed Lisauskas and Sylwester Czajkowski, about the first time they remembered playing the instrument and its changing use in the digital and disposable age.

“Many people like us grew up with a piano,” Wilber says. “It had its place in the house where people might gather, and it was equated with a sense of culture. Now, we are so into portability. It’s become very expensive to own a piano and no one has the space for it.” That in turn also leaves a question mark on what might become of Lukas Piano Service, which struggles to stay in business in a city that is moving away from its past as a manufacturing hub — one that was also a principal piano maker up through the early 20th century.

“Who from our present time would know that there were that many pianos and manufacturers of pianos made in Chicago?” Wilber wonders.

She plans to make “147 Pianos” just one chapter in a planned docuseries called “Dear Chicago,” started while she in residency at the Hyde Park Arts Center. It aims to remember the city as she grew up in it, the daughter of a plumbing contractor who “drove us around to all the warehouses places where people worked,” Wilber recalls. Now, “there’s this feeling of community and doing things together that’s really been eroded. Like “147 Pianos,” the goal for the series, she says, is “to celebrate all these spaces with some kind of performance where artists and professionals work together to create something special.” (The documentary will screen 3 p.m. April 16 at 1st Ward Chop Shop, 2033 W. North.)

Here are five more must-see events during CIMMfest, the annual five-day festival that explores the intersection of movies and music:

“The Smart Studios Story”
CIMMfest’s opening night tells the story of the Madison, Wisconsin studio owned by Butch Vig and Steve Marker where bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage recorded. The official movie of Record Store Day 2016 will be followed by a Q&A with Vig and Marker and an after party featuring ‘90s alums Catherine at Metro.
(April 13, 7:30 at Music Box, 3733 N. Southport)

Scene from "Cracked Actor," the documentary about David Bowie screening at CIMMfest. | COURTESY CIMMfest

Scene from “Cracked Actor,” the documentary about David Bowie screening at CIMMfest. | COURTESY CIMMfest

“Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story”
The late harmonica player and frontman has been credited with infiltrating the 1960s rock scene with Chicago blues. This John Anderson doc explores Butterfield’s life, from growing up Hyde Park and tracking down Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to later founding his own Hall of Fame groups.
(April 15, 7 p.m. at The Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee)

Slum Village & Tribute to J Dilla
In 2006, the producer and rapper J Dilla passed away leaving behind a long legacy that started in Detroit’s underground with hip-hop group Slum Village and culminated in work for A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Erykah Badu. His bandmates soldier on with an opening set by J Dilla protégé Black Milk.
(April 15, 9 p.m. at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park)

Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy." | ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy.” | ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

“Cracked Actor”
This super rare and officially unreleased BBC film is a look at David Bowie in between “Diamond Dogs” and “Young Americans,” a prolific yet vulnerable time when the late star’s mental state was compromised by addiction.
(April 16, 10:45 p.m. at Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee)

Brian Wilson retrospective
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Pet Sounds,” CIMMfest has collected four films about the life and work of Brian Wilson. Screenings include “Pet Stories/Pet Sounds Live From London,” “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the story of SMiLE LiVE,” “Brian Wilson presents SMiLE” and the 2015 biopic “Love & Mercy.”
(Various dates and venues)

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.