Thin Line, the documentary film festival that happens each February, has added music to its schedule, marking a change in the event’s identity.
The change could take a big bite out of both the sponsorship money and volunteer base for another popular yearly festival, 35 Denton, a four-day music festival that brings thousands of people to downtown Denton. The music festival is on hiatus for 2014, due to personnel changes and the exit of a major financial backer.
Thin Line director Joshua Butler of Denton said that adding five nights of music to the only documentary film festival in Texas required new thinking, new relationships and a lot of flexibility.
“We shortened in length,” Butler said of the festival, which jumped from five to 10 days of film screenings two years ago. “We shortened in length because we grew in width. And our future plans are to claim more bandwidth.”
Chris Flemmons, a musician and creator of 35 Denton, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Thin Line has borrowed from 35 Denton, staging evening music gigs in five downtown venues — all within walking distance — in addition to daytime and early evening documentary screenings at the Campus Theatre and the Fine Arts Theatre near and on the downtown Square.
Butler recruited Bryan Denny, the chief executive officer of DHS Entertainment, to coordinate the music with the help of volunteers.
“I think we’ve put together a really solid festival,” Denny said. “Inception-wise, the way we’re working toward [the music festival] is to keep things small for now. We don’t want to grow for the sake of it. Because Denton is internationally known for music, we’re able to get some national bands. National bands are already coming through town as it is, and have been.”
Indie and electronic acts that have gotten buzz in outlets such as Paste, Pitchfork and USA Today routinely stop in Denton to perform at the likes of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, a snug dive bar on the southeast side of the railroad tracks. National country and Americana bands come through one of Denton’s biggest live music venues, Rockin’ Rodeo.
“We’re being really careful,” Denny said. “We’re booking a lot of local bands, too. And Sebadoh is definitely confirmed.”
Sebadoh, the brainchild of Dinosaur Jr. alumnus Lou Barlow, Jason Lowenstein and Bob D’Amico, is headlining the festival. The trio released its latest record, Defend Yourself, last year.
“We’re not going after $50,000 bands, mostly because we can’t afford it,” Butler said. “And whether we’ll ever get to the point where we can bring in those kinds of bands, I don’t know. We want the festival to be manageable.”
Denny, who has been a talent buyer for Rubber Gloves for years, said he’s pleased with the lineup so far. Brave Combo, Denton’s two-time Grammy-winning polka band, is on tap to play the opening night of the festival, after the screening of the Denton-centric documentary When We Were All Broncos by Denton native David Barrow. Rising local artists, including hip-hop artist AV the Great and indie-pop artist Jessie Frye, will appear.
“We didn’t want to shop while we were hungry,” Denny said. “I have every confidence that we’ll be able to make it happen. The lineup pretty much goes from jazz and neo-soul to Americana, folk and Latin music.”
Festival organizers will construct an 8,200-square-foot tent across the street from the Oak Street Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor.
“It’s a monster tent, a closed, heated tent,” Butler said. “Inside, we’ll have full staging for audio. It’s going to be a really nice venue.”
Butler said that in spite of slicing the festival’s documentary schedule in half, film enthusiasts probably won’t be able to see every film.
“We’re still screening something like 60 films,” he said. “Submissions are up 10 percent. The whole festival is being built around submissions. And our feature documentaries eclipse all the submissions we’ve ever gotten. We haven’t had to invite any films. We had enough interest from filmmakers that we got enough to build the schedule.”
Butler said he knows that Thin Line will give 35 Denton fans their music festival fix this year — unless they have their hearts set on artists with huge popular appeal, like Big Boi, the Flaming Lips and Solange Knowles, all of whom have lured thousands to the outdoor stages at 35 Denton since organizers restructured it in 2010.
Thin Line and 35 Denton have grown in ticket sales and in profile, and in the past few years, questions about the film and music festival merging into one big event like South by Southwest in Austin have grown into real buzz.
“It’s hard to speculate about what will happen in the future with these two events,” Butler said. “Discussions are happening, but nothing has come together as of yet. Does it seem natural for the two events to merge? I think it does, and I know a lot of other people think it does. We’re committed to the plan of Thin Line being a film and music festival in the future. Regardless of what [35 Denton organizers] or anyone else decides, we’re committed to that vision of film and music.”
Denny said relations between the volunteer corps of both festivals seem friendly.
“A lot of the people who volunteered to work 35 Denton have been eager to help,” Denny said. “Some of their volunteer leaders have come aboard to work with us. We welcome anyone who wants to increase the face of Denton.”
Denny and Butler agreed that competition for local sponsorship money is brisk, and that a film and music festival in February could put 35 Denton, which is staged in March, at a disadvantage.
The March dates capture not only college-age music fans who already live in Denton during spring break, but also music industry representatives who get lured to Denton the week before they dig into SXSW in Austin.
What is now 35 Denton started as a day party and showcase of Denton bands and artists in Austin during SXSW. Over the years, the music festival has become a champion for economic development in Denton, and a push for the city’s business landscape to make room for creative young entrepreneurs with a knack for music, film, design and technology.
Butler said there is room for multiple festivals in Denton. Indeed, the city has seen Denton’s Day of the Dead, a Halloween music and street festival, and Oaktopia, last year’s fall music festival, emerge since Thin Line started in 2007, and since 35 Denton came back to Denton in a big way in 2010.
Thin Line officials have a marker for success.
“My goal is very much about making sure our partners in the community are happy,” Denny said. “I worked at and managed Cool Beans [a bar on Fry Street] for years, and John Williams, the owner of Oak Street Drafthouse, and I have known each other for years. We know what it’s like to work with people when it comes to events. We want to make sure that our partners have a good experience. We want very much for our venues to do well.”
For Butler, success is both a bottom-line issue and a little bit of a feeling.
“I hope we’re on the right track, size-wise,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to lose any money. I think by starting out smaller, and letting this grow organically, we’ll do OK. We’ll see.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
What: A five-day documentary film and music festival
When: Feb. 12-16
How much: $150 for an all-access festival pass; $75 for a film pass, which grants access to any film screening; $75 for a music pass, which grants access to any venue for Thin Line music; and $15 for tickets to see Sebadoh in the Thin Line tent. To buy tickets, visit http://bit.ly/14khzw3.
On the Web: www.thinline.us
The Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.
Fine Arts Theatre, 114 N. Elm St.
Dan’s Silverleaf, 103 Industrial St.
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, 411 E. Sycamore St.
Hailey’s Club, 122 Mulberry St.
Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, 115 S. Elm St.
Thin Line Tent, located across the street from the Oak Street Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor at 325 E. Oak St.