Firstly, how great is the Canberra International Film Festival?

Showcasing riveting independent movies and documentaries from around the world is always a worthwhile venture.

Screening them over a couple of weeks across a number of venues helps to make it a rewarding event for lovers of ground-breaking film.

Secondly - and getting to the point - the calibre of music docos included in this year's festival is outstanding.

Music documentaries, or rockumentaries as they have long come to be called even though the term now embraces much more than just the rock genre, are making a comeback.

And more power to them.

What the likes of D.A. Pennebaker, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders and Jonathan Demme pioneered decades ago (and are still continuing with today) is being embraced by new audiences.

Those legendary directors of course had legendary subject matter i.e. Bob Dylan, the Stones, Neil Young, Ry Cooder etc.

But what is so refreshing about the latest batch of fly-on-the-wall rockumentaries is the number of comparatively unknown artists whose lives and music are exposed to film buffs the world over.

Take the current CIFF, which ends on Sunday.

In addition to the mega stars such as Demme's latest masterpiece Neil Young Journeys (screening this Thursday night at Arc Cinema - can't wait), the festival has included a number of gems about the lesser known gods.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America, for example, is a touching and compelling story of a struggling and truly gentle man who at the ripe old age of 62 decides to cast aside years of James Brown impersonation to launch a career based on his own music.

Violeta Went to Heaven is the moving biography of Chilean folk music hero Violeta Parra.

Still to be screened this week is The Ringmaster General featuring a host of contemporary artists and centring on former Eurythmics powerhouse Dave Stewart.

And the unexpected surprise success Searching for Sugar Man (screening Friday at Arc) about the amazing life, disappearance and rediscovery of 70s' rock star Rodriguez.

The standout of the rockumentaries, and the highlight of the whole festival, has been the incredibly powerful Paul Kelly: Stories of Me that screened last Friday at Canberra Theatre.

What made the event even more special was Kelly's live appearance on stage after the final credits to play three new songs for the eager crowd.

In the field of music documentaries, director Ian Darling has earned a spot alongside Scorsese, Demme et al for his intimate, beautiful and honest portrayal of Kelly.

Interestingly, Darling told the Friday audience that he so far has been unable to find an outlet in Canberra for a limited movie house season for the film (bring back Electric Shadows).

New rockumentaries are being released on DVD with welcome regularity (brilliant one on Joe Camilleri is just hitting the stores) and if you're into music, good music films can't be ignored. Along with all the new ones some great classics are worth checking out - for openers try Don't Look Back, The Last Waltz, Year of the Horse, Some Kind of Monster, Shut Up and Sing and Rattle and Hum.

But don't forget the mockumentaries as well - those clever spoofs on the whole music documentary enigma - This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind and The Rutles just for starters.

■ Chris Johnson is a musician and a staff writer