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Arts & Culture

Cleveland Film Festival documentary examines the power of music through an Akron lens

Indigo Girls.jpg
Demand a Horizon LLC / CIFF
Iconic folk-rock duo The Indigo Girls -- and their Akron connection -- are part of the documentary 'Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music.' It screens at the Cleveland International Film Festival tonight and tomorrow.

A film premiering tonight at the Cleveland International Film Festival shows how the power of music can transport listeners and even transform how they see themselves.

The Indigo Girls have built a loyal, socially conscious fan base over the past three decades. One of those fans is former Akronite Dylan Yellowlees. And she talks about the band’s activism and impact on her life in the new documentary, “Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music.” Yellowlees says the band’s music helped her live authentically after first discovering their music in the early 1990s.

“I wasn't out. And here was this whole community of lesbians. I didn't know that existed. You didn't see people be openly lesbian or openly gay in public, and it was sort of the first time that I saw people be open and comfortable with themselves," according to Yellowlees.

“I was in college, I was laying on my couch -- being a typical college student -- and watching videos. And ‘Closer to Fine’ popped up. I immediately got in my car, drove to the local record store, and bought the cassette -- because it was a long time ago. And then just it sort of happened organically."

Yellowlees would see a show here and there, then began looking for dates which gave her an excuse to visit new cities; the concert would become the centerpiece of a mini-vacation. Much of the footage for her segments was shot at the Akron Civic Theatre, which she rates as one of the best venues in the country, comparable to the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

"The Akron Civic is right up there because it's just so visually amazing from the moment you walk down the hallway to come inside. There's so much visually happening and so much meaning behind some of the things. I just think those older theaters -- whether it's The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville or the Akron Civic -- those theaters that were built before modern-day amplification just sound so much better and so much richer. And you can sort of feel the ghosts of everybody that's ever played there."

LOST IN THE STARS
Director Kathleen Ermitage agrees. "I do remember the first time I walked in there, it was overwhelming: the detail and the paint and the architecture and then the starry sky. The ceiling really makes you feel like you're in a different world. I was so glad that we ended up in that space to film twice."

Ermitage says, after seeing the film, she hopes audiences appreciate how people connect through music.

“We ended up finding that music creates community. That can be just a one-on-one relationship with the artist. Sometimes you meet the artists or musicians you admire, and oftentimes we don't. But we all have the experience of having a deep connection to a certain musician and that could be anything from listening to them in the car, to wanting to go out and change the world because you just listened to a lyric. And then in another situation, you could be at a concert and you suddenly [become] friends with people that you've never met before -- and those become lifelong relationships. There's so much about music that brings us together. That's the range that we were trying to explore in the film.”

“Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music” shows how Yellowlees found that sense of community and also became more interested in LGBT rights and Native American rights – all thanks to the Indigo Girls.

ANOTHER PAGE
Another story in the film looks at a completely different connection through music. Michael Ford founded Hip Hop Architecture to address complaints about the spaces inhabited by Black and brown people. Now he runs week-long camps for kids in cities all around the U.S. – using rap music as a guide.

Ermitage says “his story is just so compelling and I've never met anyone that talked about music and lyrics the way that he does.”

“Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music” runs at the Cleveland International Film Festival on Friday 4:55 p.m., and Saturday at 9:25 a.m. It will also be available for streaming. Details are here.

This is not director Kathleen Ermitage's first foray into Northeast Ohio. In 2017, she was associate producer of "This is Bob Hope...," as part of PBS' "American Masters" series of documentaries.