Music doc ‘Muscle Shoals’ and its director visiting BIFF’s Drive-In

Saturday's sold-out event will feature music by Americana duo The StrangeByrds

The team at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. From left, Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Carol Buckins, Steve Melton, Diane Butler, Pearce Pettus and Bobby Heathcote in front of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. In the 2013 music documentary, “Muscle Shoals,” by Boulder-based filmmaker Greg “Freddy” Camalier, viewers see the backstory and magic of Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, that both produced some of the most acclaimed hits of all time throughout the ’60s and ’70s. “Muscle Shoals” will be shown to a sold-out crowd on Saturday as part of BIFF’s Drive-In series. (“Muscle Shoals”/Courtesy photo)

“Respect,” by Aretha Franklin. “Wild Horses,” by the Rolling Stones. “Tell Mama,” by Etta James. “Free Bird,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Old Time Rock and Roll,” by Bob Seger. A small town in northern Alabama — home to Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — was the unlikely birthplace of these timeless hits.

“Muscle Shoals,” the documentary by filmmaker and Boulder resident Greg “Freddy” Camalier — released by Magnolia Pictures — made its Colorado debut at the Boulder International Film Festival in 2013. Now, the award-winning doc will be shown as part of BIFF’s Drive-In series on Saturday at Boulder Municipal Airport. Director Camalier will introduce his film that captures the magic and magnetism of a southern town, bordered by the Tennessee River, responsible for producing some of the most revered, recognizable and powerful songs to date.

Musicians Donnie Fritts (left) and Spooner Oldham outside of Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 2010. (Leslie Alsheimer/ Courtesy photo)

“I think this is the film we probably hear about most when people talk about their favorite films from past BIFFs,” said Kathy Beeck, festival founder. “It was a thrill for us that year to screen a film on opening night that was directed by a Boulderite. I remember Freddy (Camalier) saying that from where he edited and worked on the film, he could see the Boulder Theater, so he was also thrilled. It doesn’t get more local than that.”

Tickets to Saturday’s screening sold out in a matter of hours — proving that the essence of the documentary has just as much staying power as the tracks laid down by the artists seen throughout. In the thoughtfully crafted nearly two-hour film, viewers are treated to appearances by Alicia Keys, Bono, Mic Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Cliff and the late Gregg Allman. These legendary musicians recount their experiences in the recording studios. Producer Rick Hall, who passed away in 2018 and who founded Fame Studios in the late 1950s, also weighs in on the magic of the early days.

“I respected all those folks — the subjects of the film — so much,” said Camalier, “and by the end I was close with a lot of those folks, so I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to not screw up and to tell their story accurately and to tell it well.”

The movie poster for the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals,” by filmmaker and Boulderite Greg “Freddy” Camalier. (Magnolia Pictures/ Courtesy photo)

While Camalier worked as an associate producer on 2007’s “The Ten,” starring Paul Rudd and Winona Ryder, “Muscle Shoals” was his debut as a director.

In 2008, he was working in real estate and decided to help a friend move cross-country from the East coast to New Mexico. The two were cruising in a muscle car on back roads through the south when they passed a sign for Muscle Shoals. They swung a U-turn and decided to explore. Enamored by the town’s musical legacy, Camalier felt compelled to share with the world the magnitude and backstory of what he encountered there. The rest is history.

Hearing praise of his documentary that artfully showcases what’s often dubbed “the hit recording capital of the world,” Camalier said he feels “humbled” and “relieved” that it continues to resonate with audiences today and that it has secured its place among other offerings that capture the sheer magnitude of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and soul on film.

He looks forward to once again sharing the film with a Boulder crowd and catching up with the people who added to its success.

Performing prior to the film will be local Americana favorites, The Strangebyrds — a Rollinsville-based multi-instrumental duo, composed of Ray Smith and Cari Minor, known for poetic songwriting, tight musicianship and layered harmonies.

“Ray Smith wrote, performed and recorded the original music score for ‘Muscle Shoals’ in his home studio,” which is Gulch Groove Studio in Rollinsville, said Beeck. “So they perfect fit with the movie.”

The Strangebyrds will perform ahead of the screening of “Muscle Shoals” on Saturday as part of BIFF’s Drive-In series. (The Strangebyrds/ Courtesy photo)

“I’m excited to see folks — Ray (Smith) and Cari (Minor) and hopefully Josh Minor, Cari’s son, who was an editor on the film and one of my first hires,” Camalier said. “I hired Josh from an ad I placed at CU. A lot of my friends will be there, it turns out. I hope I get to see everyone, but with COVID I’m not sure. But, knowing my friends are in the audience will be fun. I love my friends.”

The extra down time brought on by the pandemic has afforded Camalier a chance to reawaken his own musicianship.

“I’ve tried to use COVID as a learning opportunity and I kind of have done that,” Camalier said. “I have gotten all my guitar-playing chops back and then some. I had lost those for over a decade. As far as projects, I was scheduled to film a short in New York City in May for a scripted series and that obviously has been pushed until further notice. I am currently developing two music docs, one will pitch soon via Zoom.”

Camalier is planning on revisiting some of his favorite music documentaries to glean inspiration for his upcoming projects.

Boulder-based filmmaker Greg “Freddy” Camalier will introduce his 2013 film “Muscle Shoals” at BIFF’s sold-out Drive-In event on Saturday. (Greg “Freddy” Camalier/ Courtesy photo)

“Developing these other two music docs has made me think about music docs that inspire me from a filmmaking perspective,” Camalier said. “I get bored easily and for me to make a documentary engaging is always a challenge — especially if you cannot shoot verite. Let’s say your subject is no longer alive or the event has already taken place. Anyways, I look for docs that take the medium to a fresh and original place. I want to go back and watch Bret Morgan’s doc he did on the Stones where you only hear the band’s voices from the interviews. Coincidentally, while on the Stones, I also want to go back and watch the doc chronicling the making of ‘Exile on Main Street’ in the Cote d’Azur. That was covering an event in the past and I remember liking the film.”

BIFF’s Drive-In series kicked off with the music documentary “Two Trains Runnin,’” on June 20. “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” and “40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie” have also been shown on the big screen.

“The feedback has been great,” Beeck said. “We are featuring live local musicians for an hour and then maybe a newer film that might have had no in-person public screenings, or a favorite film from a past BIFF. We also often have a ‘Call2Action’ community partner attend, so with all of that, it makes for a great evening and a great event. We’re scheduled through the end of September right now and we’ll see about next summer.”

BIFF hasn’t released a full schedule, but rather updates its website each Friday at noon with information on the film that will be screened the following week.

“We have a beautiful animated family film coming up soon — a classic for adults as well as kids,” Beeck said. “Its hand-drawn animation makes it not standard drive-in fare.”

In addition to offering films that were loved at previous BIFFs, Beeck is excited to offer filmmakers a platform to showcase their latest works.

“We also know many great filmmakers that have had a blast at BIFF, but had their premiere screenings at SXSW or Tribeca cancelled due to COVID,” Beeck said. “They remember our enthusiastic Boulder audiences, so we are thrilled to be getting the first or second in-person public screenings. Filmmakers want their films to be seen with an audience and know ours are some of the best.”

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