‘Jimi’ filmmaker ‘a little nervous’ about SIFF opening night
An interview with Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, who wrote and directed “Jimi: All Is By My Side,” a look at a formative year in the life of the guitar hero, which opens SIFF May 15.
Seattle Times movie critic
Seattle International Film Festival
7 p.m. May 15, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $50-$250 (includes post-screening party), siff.net or 206-324-9996.
Festival begins Friday, May 16, and continues through June 8 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Egyptian, Harvard Exit and Pacific Place; also at Lincoln Square (through May 29), Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (May 22-28) and Kirkland Performance Center (May 29-June 1); siff.net or 206-324-9996. Printed festival guides available at all SIFF venues and many Starbucks locations.
The 40th annual Seattle International Film Festival opens Thursday night, May 15, with, appropriately, the story of a Seattle native. “Jimi: All Is By My Side” follows a year in the life of rock legend Jimi Hendrix (played by André Benjamin, of hip-hop duo Outkast), a transition period in the 1960s when he moved to London from New York and transformed from little-known backup guitarist to rising star.
“It’s not the story people are expecting,” said writer/director John Ridley, on the phone from Los Angeles last week. The recent Oscar winner (for the “12 Years a Slave” screenplay) said he’s been interested for years in making a movie about Hendrix, but most projects presented to him were “very much the basic cradle-to-grave biopic.” This version, he said, shines a light on less-familiar elements of the Hendrix legend.
“ When [Hendrix] left New York, he was Jimmy James, not the artist people have come to know,” said Ridley. His style of playing, the people he made music with, the clothes he wore, even the spelling of his name — “all of those things, he came to embrace in that year he was in London.”
In crafting the screenplay, Ridley talked to many people who knew Hendrix or were part of that London scene, and he read numerous accounts of the time. “His story has really passed into legend at this point,” Ridley said, noting that the record often contains “two or three different versions of what happened” for many incidents in Hendrix’s life. “At some point, you have to be a historical referee — which one of the stories feels the most correct, which one feels the most objective and fair to all the people probably involved.”
Hendrix fans will immediately note that none of the artist’s original recordings are used in the film; something Ridley said he was resigned to early on. He and the producers approached the Hendrix family, who declined to make the rights to Hendrix’s recordings available for the film. (“Jimi” is, however, not without a genuine Hendrix touch: The artist’s brother Leon provided Ridley with some family photographs, “which bring some very personal notes to some areas of this film and make it very special.”)
Though he especially regrets that they couldn’t use “Sending My Love to Linda” (written for Linda Keith, played in the film by Imogen Poots), Ridley said that ultimately, “we got to make the film we wanted to make.” He was able to use many songs by other artists performed by Hendrix during that period — including the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — which were re-created by Benjamin and an array of musicians under music producer Danny Bramson.
Ridley said he’s excited to be presenting the film in Seattle but admitted to being “just a little nervous” about the hometown opening. “We hope it plays well for folks who are obviously going to be amazingly attuned to Jimi and his life story,” he said. “We hope they find it respectful, beautiful, different ... engaging in all those ways.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org