This year’s Visual/Sound/Walls portion of the 22nd annual Cucalorus Film Festival is its most robust yet. With 36 videos, it features just as many (or more) talented regional, national and international musicians and performing artists as filmmakers. Curator, event coordinator and all-around music-video enthusiast Johnny Gray says each video will transition beautifully on the screen—with help from projectionist Matt Hedt, technical coordinator Aaron Cavazos, and cast of community performers and visual artists.
Gray has curated this portion of Cucalorus for six years and says that while it’s often a collection of work directly submitted by directors and artists, they’re also handpicked by him throughout the year.
“I watch music videos all the time and keep track of the ones that I think are really good,” he says. “I get up with [the directors] and ask them to submit. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.”
Visual/Sound/Walls will host three separate events this year, including the opening night party at Throne Theater on Wednesday, Nov. 9; VJs & DJs BFs 4 EVs, hosted by Camboi Smif and “professional hype man” DJ John Elliott Gray, on Thursday, Nov. 10; and the Director’s Cut party at Jengo’s Playhouse on Thursday as well, wherein folks can consume libations as well as mix and mingle with filmmakers prior to heading into the theater music video screenings.
“Audience members will be able to interact with them, ask them questions and be friends with them,” Gray quips.
Though this year’s catalogue features the most videos they’ve ever had, Gray says it was totally unintentional. “It’s all guided by the content that comes to me,” he tells, “and I don’t know if that means there are more awesome music videos out there or the universe is just bringing them to me.”
Despite Gray’s growing confidence in their ability to curate hours upon hours of entertainment each year, they also have to make tough choices. They regularly have to turn away solid entries to maintain a balance of genres and themes.
“I do believe we’re at a Golden Age for music videos,” Gray says. “There are so many [videos] and so many creative people making them; and with the internet as a way to access all of them (regardless of TV access), there’s so much amazing content out there. . . . There’s definitely a conscious effort to provide a variety for multiple music tastes and I try to be aware of how many rock, hip-hop, electronic videos I have. I try to get a fun grab-bag of videos to play with.”
Gray believes the addition of interactive elements to Visual/Sound/Walls is the most significant and constant component they’ve been growing. From getting dancers and others performers to accompany videos to live performances by artists themselves, such as Skylar Gudasz (singer-songwriter from the Triangle Area) who will sing along with her video “I Want To Be With You In The Darkness,” directed by Roxanne Turpen.
“Also, ending the night rapping with his video, is Durham rapper Austin Royal,” Gray adds of Wednesday night. “He’ll be performing with his video [‘Move’] and doing a 30-minute set at the end of the night.”
Visual/Sound/Walls is also a party, which demands somewhat upbeat jams and dance tracks. Gray wants the evening at Throne Theater to provoke thought, but also keep the crowd moving. “Some softer ‘flow’ stuff is fine but you don’t want to overwhelm the crowd with that,” Gray explains. “And of course the video is important—if it’s good and interesting the whole way through. Ideally, I’d like it to have a third aspect that is special as well.”
That certain je ne sais quoi Gray describes is different for every video. For example, one of the local entries from comedian and rapper Reid Clark uses satire in “The Miranda Slide” to combine commentary on police brutality and mass incarceration with elements of DJ Casper’s hit from 2000 “Cha-Cha Slide.”
“It comes with a dance,” Gray divulges. “It makes it stand out.”
Gray’s also excited for audiences to see the live performances by dancers and actors in costume interacting with various videos. “Sometimes they’re doing dances in the video and sometimes they’re interacting in a more abstract way,” he adds.
“Sphynx” by La Femme and Aymeric Bergada du Cadet, premiering on Nov. 9 at Throne Theater, features the French band known for “krautrock.” The video presents a broad cast of characters, commentary on society’s perception of nudity (what’s acceptable and not), and nipples … lots of nipples. “It’s a very costume-heavy video,” Gray adds. “And there’s very distinct characters that we’ll have people mimicking [live].”
The night will also kick off with a bit of obscurity in Ghost Against Ghost’s “Checkpoint Charlie,” directed by Craig Murray.
“It’s a very epic song,” Gray describes. “It’s an abstract tale of lost love with strange-looking characters that descend in blood-lube orgy bath—so we have that split up into two halves and the other half takes place further down the lineup. . . . You’d never see that on MTV back in the day when they’d actually play videos.”
For a full schedule for Visual/Sound/Walls and other Cucalorus Film Festival events, visit cucalorus.org.