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Festival Express Interview From San Fran Premiere


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I got this from IGN:

All Aboard the Festival Express

Hanging out with the Grateful Dead, Eddie Kramer and more at the premiere of the classic rock concert film.

July 19, 2004 - Festival Express is the documentary of a legendary rock 'n' roll revue that crossed Canada during the summer of '70. Although the Summer of Love was more or less dead by the end of 1969, many of the bands which provided the soundtrack to that era were still thriving in the early '70s. In terms of the Festival Express itself, it all happened back in July 1970 when a Canadian concert promoter gathered several top American rock 'n' roll acts, put them all on a train and shuttled them around Canada for a series of music festivals.

What few people ever knew, however, was that an ambitious movie producer decided to send a film crew along for the ride to document the proceedings. The crew captured nearly 100 hours of 16mm footage – everything from concert performances to jam sessions on the rollicking train itself. What they didn't capture was enough money to turn the footage into a movie. Thus the film was "lost" or rather indefinitely shelved. And as the memories of that summer faded, the film was destined to become legend itself, except that one day in the mid '90s a few intrepid film students decided to venture on a mission to find the rumored "long lost footage of the Canadian Woodstock," and the end result of their search – and the culmination of a 35-year-old project – is Festival Express.

It's not everyday that one gets to see such a film, and, necessarily, the top question on everybody's mind is: How does one salvage a lost film? Luckily we were able to ask this question to the filmmakers themselves at the red carpet World Premiere which was held at the UA Galaxy Theater in San Francisco on Monday, July 12, 2004. Naturally, IGN FilmForce was on hand for the festivities, sending IGN's resident classic rock expert Tom Anderson to conduct the red carpet interviews.

Needless to say, given the classic rock roots that surround the San Francisco Bay Area, the lobby of the Galaxy was quite a scene for the premiere. One of the main bands highlighted in the film is San Francisco's own Grateful Dead. And being that the Dead are an intrinsic part of the Bay Area's culture, local heroes, if you will, it came as no surprise that Billy Kreutzmann, Bobby Weir and Mickey Hart were seen milling around with other surviving members of the Dead family in the lobby.

Although we weren't able to chat with any of the members of the Dead themselves (their "handler" picked and chose who got to ask them questions as they paraded down the red carpet) we did bump into Eddie Kramer, who mixed the music for the film. Kramer is a veritable music legend, having worked with everybody from Hendrix to Zeppelin and Kiss, and specializes in producing live albums. Among his many achievements, he worked on the original Woodstock movie and remastered D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop


Eddie Kramer and Bob Weir

Given his track record with helping craft seminal live albums, we asked him how it is he came to be so highly regarded when it comes to mixing and engineering pristine live concert footage. "I guess it started with Hendrix. I just became known as the Go To Guy," he replied with a smile. Knowing that this particular project was no easy task, we asked him if he could pinpoint the hardest aspect he encountered while working on Festival Express. His reply was quite fascinating. "Well, you couldn't have made this movie in 1970 because the technology was not there."

The film's director, Bob Smeaton, expanded on Kramer's answer, saying "The biggest hurdle was actually trying to make the sound match the pictures. Because what happened was they didn't have any clapper boards on the front; so you didn't know what songs the bands were playing. Sometimes it would be in synch at the start of the song and by the time it had got through to the end it had drifted, so they couldn't've have really made it in 1970 because they would never have gotten the songs in synch. But Eddie Kramer!" Smeaton, several years Kramer's junior, then put his arm around Kramer and gave him a comradely hug.

But there were more technical difficulties than just the absence of clapper boards. "The technical challenge of taking an 8-track one-inch tape and synching it with disparate pieces of movie that were in four-camera shoots or three-camera shoots where the synch was either there or not there, it was a bit of a nightmare. In fact they were working some time with no synch," Kramer further elaborated, shining light on some of the more complex technical challenges of piecing together the music and images.

"The cameras back then were run on battery and the film camera would slow down when the battery started to run; so the film would be running at different speeds throughout," Smeaton continued. "We got a bit of machinery now with which we can speed up audio without actually altering the pitch. So we're able to, within the space of the song, make it work." Of course in addition to the synching problems, there was the obvious challenge of editing over 85 hours of salvaged footage (some footage remains lost or destroyed). "I think probably the hardest bit was just trying to decide what to leave out," Smeaton laughs. There was a lot of good stuff in there!"

Of course knowing that stuff was actually left out of the film begs the "Million Dollar Question": "What's the worst thing that you left on the cutting room floor that you really wanted to put in?" Oddly enough, both Smeaton and Kramer picked the same scene, but it was Kramer who voiced what it was. "Janis Joplin singing 'Me & Bobby McGee,' which you hear over the end [credits] but there's no actual footage of her singing it. You don't see it, but you hear it. And [there's a section with] her berating her record company which is hilarious!"


With all of the leftover unused footage one hopes that some of it will find its way onto the impending DVD. Smeaton was kind enough to confirm that this would indeed be the case. "I think the DVD will have 90 minutes of new materials because there were so many songs which could not make the film. We wanted the songs to run full length. Even though we edited some of the Dead songs because they ran for like, a week, right. Eddie Kramer edited them so you wouldn't know they'd been edited. It would have been great to have put everybody in there, but we it didn't want it running for two and a half hours."

As Smeaton and Kramer continued down the red carpet, stopping to field more questions from the other journalists present, it was an easy decision as to who to interview next. As everyone knows, a film can't get made without money, which usually means that behind every great director is an equally great producer. Festival Express actually boasts two in the form of the father/son duo of Gavin and Willem Poolman. When asked how it felt to have started this film a generation ago only to eventually pass the project off to his son, the elder Poolman replied, "Well, there have been many, many false starts. And when this started I still didn't believe it, until it was actually on the screen. It's just like a dream come true." The obvious follow up question for Gavin was how it felt to finish up his father's work. "A privilege and an honor," was his immediate reply. "It was a bit strange working on stuff that had been in my garage when I was a kid. But Canadians don't like to throw things out, so…"

Speaking of Canadians never liking to throw things out, rumor has it that the Festival Express footage was stored anonymously in the Poolmans' garage for many years and that as a child, Gavin used to employ the canisters as goal posts for hockey games. Did Gavin realize what these film canisters were when he was a kid? Did he know that it was footage for a movie? "Well, there's a story," he laughed. "My dad was a film distributor and he'd also released a film called I Am Curious (Yellow) that was a Swedish erotic film. Which, at the time, my friends and I were much more interested in."


As for back in 1970 on the actual train Willem apparently was so busy running the production that he didn't even get to experience the train or the concerts first hand. "I was actually a one-man producer," he recalled. "And I had to supply the film footage and all this stuff for a crew of 20 people. I was the only man doing it so I couldn't be sitting on the train. I was running around, raising money even because some of the backers backed out. So it was a crazy time."

Basically, his first experience of the festival was watching it on the big screen. "Yes!" he replied. Then his son Gavin quickly chimed in with an important final note, "There's a lesson here. If you wanna use my dad to produce your film, that's fine – it'll get made, but it'll take 35 years."

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