The eight-day Sacramento International Film Festival will spotlight two Sacramento institutions. One no longer exists, and the other once seemed ready to split town.
The festival will open Saturday with a sold-out screening of “All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records,” directed by Sacramento native Colin Hanks. That screening, and a second (also sold-out) showing Sunday will happen, fittingly, at the Tower Theatre, which sits in the same building where Tower Records founder Russ Solomon once sold records out of his father’s drugstore.
Rivaling the Tower film for hottest festival offering is the fan-made Sacramento Kings documentary “Playing to Win: A Relentless Pursuit to Save a Team,” which chronicles the (eventually successful) campaign to keep the team from moving to Seattle. Its festival screening, happening Wednesday at the Esquire Imax theater, is also sold out.
There will be plenty of future opportunities for Sacramento audiences to see both films. Last week, distributor Gravitas Ventures picked up “All Things,” which premiered in March at Texas’ South By Southwest festival, for a September theatrical release. “Playing to Win” (not to be confused with ESPN’s Kings documentary “Down in the Valley,” showing Friday at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival) will screen several times locally in May, at the Esquire and Rocklin’s Studio Movie Grill.
The Sacramento festival picked “All Things,” which Hanks and producer Sean Stuart began making in 2008, as its opener because “Tower (Records) is such a landmark, and so important to the town and the psyche of the town,” SIFF director Martin Anaya said. “We have been after (the filmmakers) since we knew the movie was being made.”
The filmmakers hit a fundraising wall in 2010, Stuart said by phone from Los Angeles, and nearly quit. A 2011 Kickstarter campaign raised $92,000 and revived the project, which Hanks first pitched to Stuart, a longtime friend also from Sacramento, in 2007 – not long after Tower folded.
“The way Colin presented it to me is, ‘This story started on the back shelf of a pharmacy in the Tower Theatre building in the 1940s and ended with the shutting down of almost 200 stores worldwide in 2006,’” Stuart said. “‘And (Tower) changed how people consumed, bought and interacted with music.’”
Before there was an Amoeba Music or big-box retailers, Tower Records stunned music fans with the sheer size of its stores and selection. Yet Tower also maintained a mom ’n’ pop feel, Stuart said, that sprang from Solomon’s strategy of letting employees determine individual stores’ cultures.
“If you went to Seattle in the 1990s, that store was full of grunge music – it was literally to the local taste,” Stuart said. “Everyone thought their local Tower Records was the first. If you met somebody who grew up in Los Angeles, they’d go, ‘Oh yeah, I shopped at the very first store, on Sunset.’ And you’d say, ‘You know, actually …’”
Bruce Springsteen talks about that Sunset store in “All Things,” and how it was a hub for musicians new to town, as he once was. Elton John discusses his weekly shopping visits to the Sunset store, which would open an hour early to accommodate the singer.
The movie’s star, though, is the charismatic Solomon, who comes across as a visionary yet fun-loving leader.
Hanks filmed Solomon sitting among empty racks at Sacramento’s Watt Avenue store, the first Tower Records opened after the original drugstore business. Though “All Things” appears to have captured the store’s closing days in 2006, the footage was shot in 2008.
“I guess since it had shut down, everyone just walked away,” Stuart said. “The record racks were still there, the neon was still up, but it was empty.”
The documentary details the elements contributing to the chain’s closure, including Tower’s sometimes overly ambitious expansion into foreign markets.
Festival director Anaya said he was “continually enlightened” while watching the film. “Everyone thinks it was Napster and (illegal) downloading” that hurt brick-and-mortar record stores, he said. “But it was much more complex than that.”
Stuart and Hanks will hold a Q&A after Saturday’s screening. It’s unknown whether Solomon might join them, Stuart said. All three are expected at the after-party at Verge Center for the Arts. The $30-a-ticket party is a fundraiser for the Center for Sacramento History’s Tower Records Project.
Stuart and Hanks “learned a lot from Russ” about business while making the film, Stuart said. “We learned about how to step aside and let people step forward with their skill set and help make something better, whether it is a (director of photography), an editor or a sound person.”
Stuart and Hanks, though clearly fond of Solomon, mostly stick to a journalistic documentary approach. Not so the maker of the unabashedly partisan “Playing to Win.”
“This is literally a fan letter to Sacramento,” said “Win” director Rusty Prevatt. “It came about because of the passion of really wanting to keep our team here.”
Prevatt worked as a cameraman for the Kings before founding the production company Franklin Pictures, through which he also has worked for the Kings (and the Republic FC soccer team). He began shooting footage for “Win” in 2010, when then-Kings owners the Maloofs considered a move to Anaheim.
“We were filming just for posterity’s sake,” Prevatt said. A more focused plan for a film emerged in 2013, when Kings superfan and radio personality “Carmichael” Dave Weiglein “had this wild and crazy idea to travel the country,” Prevatt said.
“Win” follows Weiglein’s tour, via purple bus, to other NBA towns, where, in the weeks leading to the NBA relocation committee’s vote on the Seattle move, he stumped for keeping the team put. The committee voted 7-0 against a deal struck by the Maloofs to sell the team to a group led by then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen.
“Win” includes interviews with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, current and former Kings players and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, the Silicon Valley tech tycoon whose Sacramento ownership group beat out the Seattle group.
The movie is not an official Kings project, Prevatt said, though Kings minority owner (and Republic FC majority owner) Kevin Nagle pitched in money to “get us to the finish line.”
“Nobody, including Kevin Nagle, did this for the money,” Prevatt said.
Part of the proceeds from the local showings will go to Johnson’s regional creative initiative, For Arts’ Sake.
Wednesday’s festival play date coincides with the two-year anniversary of the NBA committee’s vote against the Seattle plan. That his film screens just days after the ESPN doc doesn’t faze Prevatt. He welcomes all films about Sacramento keeping its team. “This is something for all of us to be so proud of,” he said.
SACRAMENTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
What: An eight-day film festival encompassing feature-length films, shorts programs and special events. This year, the SIFF also marks a 20th anniversary of sorts. The current festival is an offshoot of the now-defunct Sacramento Festival of Cinema, which began in 1995.
When: Saturday-May 3
Where: Tower Theatre, Crest Theatre, Delta King, Esquire Imax
Cost: $12 individual films. Other prices vary.