Documentary revisits 'A Musical Life'
Before and after his death from cancer in March 2016, a great many people showed their love and affection for Tim Ellis, a longtime Portland musician, guitarist, studio owner, educator and music maven.
Filmmaker Tiffany Ellis felt inspired and compelled to document her father's story.
The result for Ellis and her Jadamali Films is the documentary, "This is Tim: A Musical Life," which premieres at Hollywood Theatre, Nov. 14.
Not that she hadn't known about her father's life, but Ellis learned much more through some 40 interviews and poring over hours of archival footage. It brought back memories, and it helped Ellis love and appreciate her father even more.
"It was a huge part of my grieving process," she said. "The huge range of emotions I've experienced, it's been personally healing.
"When you sit down with 40 close bandmates and friends, that's such a huge blessing any child can experience. The fact that I was able to do it with the cameras rolling, and craft a story that hopefully is meaningful to other people, is icing on the cake."
The 83-minute film includes interviews from such music luminaries as close friend and partner Aaron Meyer, Mark Schulman, Art Alexakis, Thomas Lauderdale, Jim Walker, Stephanie Schneiderman and the Brown Sisters.
Ellis' mother, Susan Ellis, and her five siblings also are featured in the documentary. Ellis interviewed her mother and brother, Thomas Ellis V, the only guitarist out of the kids; the father Ellis went by Tim, but he was actually Thomas Ellis IV. The son Thomas, who served in the U.S. Air Force, is married and living in Brazil.
Ellis also acquired more than 350 hours of archival video material. The elder Ellis hosted a show on public access TV called "Electric Surf" in the 1990s, and the broadcaster donated some 50 episodes to the project.
"You can imagine the super-rich material to draw from," Ellis said.
And, there were hours of simple video from her father's Kung Fu Bakery recording studio, and the cinematographer was kind enough to donate the archive. "It's one thing to see old performance footage and interviews of people talking, but this is an opportunity to see what the music-making process looked like and watch dad work and how he worked with other musicians," Ellis said.
Ellis is grateful for the contribution of editor Beth Segal, because it was a lot of work over the past three-plus years.
"Because I was so close to the material and grew up around music, it was important to bring an editor from outside of that to draw me outside of my small circle," Ellis said. "There was a balancing of the intimacy of the content, with a daughter telling a story about the man, but also that the story had a universal message. As the director, I'd like to say I accomplished that."
Ellis, who holds degrees from Occidental College and Oxford University, has lived around the world, but moved back to Portland in 2014. She had two years around her father before he died March 21, 2016, at age 60.
Led by Meyer and others, a fundraising event at Revolution Hall raised more than $100,000 for Tim Ellis' medical expenses. The younger Ellis saw many Portland musicians rally to her father's side, and speak about what he meant to them as a recording studio owner, session player and band member. Tim Ellis also worked as a teacher at Portland Adventist Academy for nearly 20 years. He's a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
Tim Ellis had a beautiful quote near the end of his life: "I'm a blessed guy. Nothing I would change if I had it to do over again. Except maybe met my wife sooner."
It's fitting to have the movie premiere at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., before other planned screenings and a possible tour of film festivals.
"I feel my dad is a true Portland icon, and it's important to share the film in an iconic location and theater," Tiffany Ellis said. "There'll be a ton of musicians there. In the movie credits I included every single musician who can be identified in the film, and it's such a representation of musical talent in the city.
"It's important to share (the film) with people who helped make it. The film wouldn't have been possible without the hundreds of fans, family, friends. That's what the premiere is about, celebrating not just my father but the people who he impacted."
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