The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, or CIMMfest, began in 2009 with a simple formula: combining compelling films about music with great live music acts from across the globe. “We had no idea what we were doing when we started,” says musician Josh Chicoine, who founded the multivenue festival with documentary filmmaker Ilko Davidov. “It was very free spirited, very much about throwing caution to the wind.” Over the past six years, CIMMfest has grown from a scrappy upstart to one of Chicago’s most exciting cutting-edge annual art events. There are no red carpets or high-profile celebrities, but its increasingly exceptional lineup (Adam Montgomery, a senior manager of programming for the Sundance Film Festival, joins the fest this year as a director of film programming.) and cheap tickets ($10 to $15) make it an eccentric counterpoint to larger local fests. With more than 90 films and shows to choose from, there’s a lot to take in. Here are 17 you’ll want to put on your agenda.
Go: Cimmfest runs April 16 to 19 at various venues. cimmfest.org
Contemporary and Avant-Garde
The conscious rapper Psalm One joins talented local lady MCs on April 18 at the Hideout. Listen to the group’s hilarious podcast Thirst Trap.
Get a dose of traditional Mexican music when this sextet provides a live score for Sergei Eisenstein’s 1932 opus Que Viva Mexico!, which author Upton Sinclair helped produce.
Never Release My Fist
Wu Wei, considered the godfather of Chinese punk, holds the last candle for a dying scene in Wuhan, China, in Shui-Bo Wang’s new documentary.
In Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein’s doc, the Japanese art-punk act Peelander-Z spins into chaos when a founding member decides to quit partway through a tour.
The Cell Phones
Garage-punk frontwoman Lindsey Charles will knock out audiences at Emporium Arcade Bar with hard-charging vocal belting—think Karen O meets Death from Above 1979.
Contemporary and Classical
The experimental guitarist and composer—who was enlisted by Tom Waits to help on his iconic albums Rain Dogs and Mule Variations—plays a live score for Josef von Sternberg’s 1928 seminal silent film The Docks of New York.
This perpetual Chicago favorite was born in the city’s alt-rock days of yore when Liz Phair and the Smashing Pumpkins ruled Wicker Park. Now the duo debuts a new album, Hey, Killer, onstage at the Metro.
A protégé of folk figurehead John Prine, the beloved Memphis singer-songwriter will perform in conjunction with The First Waltz.
The First Waltz
Justin Kreutzmann, son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, has a new film that pulls back the curtain on the folk supergroup Hard Working Americans.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
A performance by this eight-man baskeda band, formed in a Guinea refugee camp, will lift your spirits.
Historical and Avant-Garde
The Residents, a mysterious, mask-clad renegade San Francisco art collective, embark on a 40th anniversary tour in Don Hardy’s documentary.
Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo helped produce this film about jazz icon and fretless-bass master Jaco Pastorius. Trujillo will host a Q&A after the film.
John Pirozzi delves into the story of rebellious Cambodian youth whose unusual blend of Western guitar fuzz and traditional pinpeats during the Vietnam War started a rock movement across the country.
Basically, Johnny Moped
Director Fred Burns (son of rock star Ray Burns, or Captain Sensible) chronicles the origins of the U.K. punk movement through forgotten ’70s act Johnny Moped.
Historical and Classical
Pharrell Williams, Questlove, Diplo, and Phil Collins give a history lesson in Alex Dunn’s film about the importance of the 1980s-born Roland TR-808 drum machine. You might know the sound from a little album titled 808s and Heartbreak.
The 79-year-old Chicago blues drummer has played with Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters and still gigs around town in his signature cape and crown. Lay will also be inducted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year for his work with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Nuff said.
In 1992, country music star Mize—from whom it’s said Elvis Presley got his sartorial sense—lost his voice after a stroke. William J. Saunders’s film traces the icon’s legacy, struggles, and triumphant 2009 return.