Nels Cline, the Wilco guitarist, who is the subject of “Approximately Nels Cline.” The film was shot at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios
Nels Cline, the Wilco guitarist, who is the subject of “Approximately Nels Cline.” The film was shot at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios

Berkeley filmmaker Steven Okazaki won an Academy Award in 1991 for Days of Waiting, a short film about Estelle Ishigo, a Caucasian artist who went with her Japanese-American husband to a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans. Three of his other films, focusing on the  legacy of the World War II era on Japanese Americans, have also been nominated for Oscars.

Now Okazaki has turned his attention to the music of Nels Cline, one of the country’s most accomplished guitarists and a member of the band Wilco.

Shot entirely inside Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, Approximately Nels Cline is an examination of every aspect of the guitarist. The short documentary shows Cline playing electric and acoustical guitar, improvising, and performing traditional and experimental music. The film — Okazaki’s first music documentary — explores Cline’s genius and sense of adventure and showcases his “fearless experimental spirit.”

“It’s not your typical music documentary,” said Okazaki. “It’s about musicianship and the collaborative hard work of playing great music.”

Berkeley filmmaker Steven Okazaki

The film will have its West Coast premiere Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8pm at the Throckmorton Theater as part of the 35th annual Mill Valley Film Festival. It will also be shown Oct. 10 at 7:15pm at the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley.

Nels Cline started to play music when he was 12. Living in Los Angeles, he picked up the guitar and his identical twin brother, Alex, picked up the drums. He played in relative obscurity for years but was producing eclectic and inspirational music in the worlds of jazz and experimental rock. He profile increased exponentially when he became the lead guitarist of the well-known alternative rock band Wilco.

In the documentary Cline performs with Berkeley-based drummer Scott Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff of the Nels Cline Singers, as well as  guest musicians Ben Goldberg of Berkeley, Carla Kihlstedt, Ron Miles, Yuka Honda, and Matthias Bossi.

Approximately Nels Cline, rich with both whimsical and soul-stirring music, was produced by Jeffrey Wood, Jason Cohen and Okazaki; cinematography is by Academy Award-nominee Dan Krauss.

The 35th Mill Valley Film Festival runs until October 14 at a number of venues in Mill Valley, San Rafael, and Corte Madera. Berkeleyside is a proud sponsor of the Festival. For information and tickets visit the MVFF site.

Berkeleyside covers movies and other arts every week. You can see all of our movie coverage by going to the category page. Our Events Calendar also has a wealth of movies and other arts events. 

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...