For Ondi Timoner, the filmmaker behind Sundance fave music doc Dig!, the worlds of music and film are inextricably linked. ‘A good film is like a good song,’ she says. ‘I enjoy films that really sucker-punch you – that grab you and change you, make you think and feel, that re-engage your emotions, just like music does.’
Timoner is no stranger to documenting the world of music. Her series, Sound Affects, which aired on VH1 in 2000, chronicled how music played a role in the pivotal moments of peoples’ lives. Though her profile increased earlier this year when Dig! – an examination of ego and integrity in the realm of indie rock music – picked up the grand jury prize in the doc competition at Sundance, the Pasadena, US-based filmmaker has been capturing the music scene and making docs for ten years.
Timoner started filmmaking in 1992, at the age of 19. Her first long-form doc projects, both from 1994, include Voices from Inside Time, which explores women in prison in Conneticut, completed while she was at Yale University, and The Nature of the Beast, about an abused woman found guilty of murder, which aired on PBS. Timoner also did Dam Nation, a doc short on a dam built by the WTO in Mali, West Africa, which aired on US-based Free Speech TV.
Through Interloper Films, a production company founded with her brother David Timoner in 1995, she directs music videos and music documentary pieces for artists including Lucinda Williams, Paul Westerberg and The Vines. This work ultimately helped finance Dig!, a seven-year-long undertaking that documents the friendship and feuding of indie rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols.
Dig! emerged from a project called The Cut, which focused on US West Coast indie bands. ‘Out of all the bands I started filming, I realized I could tell the story by focusing on The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre,’ says Timoner. ‘They’re the only bands still around today. They’ve been successful, but in different ways. Anton Newcombe [of BJM] put out 12 records, but self-destructed every opportunity at massive critical success. The Dandy Warhols played the game, and are successful worldwide. So, I became interested in how we define success.’
Timoner directed, produced and edited the 110-minute film – budgeted under US$1 million – with the help of cinematographer/coproducers Vasco Lucas Nunes and David Timoner. Most of the footage – 1,500 hours in all – was shot from 1996 to 1998. The rest of the time was primarily spent editing. ‘I finished because I had a deadline,’ admits Timoner. Her son Joaquim was born the week she completed the film.
Post-Sundance, Dig! was picked up by New York-based Palm Pictures for theatrical and dvd release. The Sundance Channel, meanwhile, acquired pay-TV rights. The film is set for a simultaneous US theater and TV debut in October. ‘[Dig!] takes the best of what people have come to expect from reality TV,’ says Paola Freccero, senior vice president of film programming for New York-based Sundance Channel. ‘There’s a humanity to the film, and a bittersweet side to some of their behavior. And this was all real.’
Timoner is now working on Raia, a self-financed doc chronicling a rare form of Portuguese bullfighting in which young men meet once a year to face the bulls in a defensive dance from behind a 2000 lb wooden structure. It’s set to wrap by spring of 2005.
She’s also moving into narrative features, writing one based on The Nature of the Beast, and one about her father (who founded the airline Air Florida), as well as developing a scripted project on ska music’s Dan Drummond.
Docs will always be close to Timoner’s heart, however, and she hopes that Dig! retunes the music doc landscape. ‘A lot of music docs are meandering, and unless I’m an incredible fan of the band, I like to see live music live. Dig! is a drama unfolding against a music industry background, but it’s [also] about life, and about art meeting industry, and success and dreams,’ notes Timoner. ‘Companies don’t pay a lot for [music docs], because they associate them with money loss. So, it’s fast-moving docs that are about a little more than just the music [that will succeed]. If Dig! can hold audience attention, it may redefine music docs.’