Rock docs take center stage at TIFF

Cameron Crowe, Davis Guggenheim, Albert Maysles and Jonathan Demme were all touting new projects at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, featuring such A-list rockers as Pearl Jam, U2, Paul McCartney and Neil Young, respectively.
September 27, 2011

A quartet of rock docs captured the spotlight at September’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), with new efforts from directors such as Cameron Crowe and Jonathan Demme, and appearances from artists including U2, Pearl Jam and Neil Young.

The festival kicked off with Davis Guggenheim’s From the Sky Down, which examined the making of U2′s acclaimed 1991 album Achtung Baby! and marked the first time a doc had opened TIFF in its 36-year history.

The premiere kick-started a run of music films that included Albert Maysle’s Paul McCartney doc The Love We Make, Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam Twenty and Jonathan Demme’s Neil Young Journeys – the latter being the director’s third film on Young.

At the press conferences accompanying the premieres, the conversation often turned to music documentaries, with artists and directors alike lining up to reference the films that had influenced them.

For U2 frontman Bono, the pick of the bunch was Martin Scorsese’s 1978 film The Last Waltz, which captures the last concert performed by the rock group The Band.

“I’ve seen it 10 times,” the singer said. “It’s a real insight into a band; it was them at their peak, and then they were gone.”

For U2 guitarist The Edge, meanwhile, Pennebaker’s 1967 vérité effort featuring Bob Dylan took the prize. “Dont Look Back is such an incredible piece of work because it captures a moment in [Dylan's] career where he decided to turn his back on the folk scene, which he had been the king of,” he said. “He effectively walked away from one fiefdom to go and seek his fortune elsewhere. And that’s, for us, a great lesson.”

Bono also paid tribute to Demme, picking out Stop Making Sense, the filmmaker’s 1984 documentary on new wave stars Talking Heads, for special praise. “It had a huge impact on us,” said Bono. “Jonathan Demme’s an incredible filmmaker.”

For his part, Guggenheim called Stop Making Sense “a perfect movie,” while also drawing attention to New York Doll, Greg Whiteley’s “obscure rock documentary” from 2005. “It’s so beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time,” Guggenheim offered.

Elsewhere, director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) followed up the April Tribeca Film Festival premiere of The Union – his documentary on musicians Elton John and Leon Russell – with another music doc premiere at TIFF. Pearl Jam Twenty offers a two-decade retrospective on the Seattle rock group, and at a gathering to discuss the film, Crowe cited Martin Scorsese’s comprehensive rock doc No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, describing it as his “guiding light” while making the film.

“I just love the way that Scorsese – as a fan, as a musicologist and as a director – examines the roots and shows how the music is born,” said Crowe. “I felt so satisfied and inspired, I wanted to listen to more Bob Dylan – it felt like the Bob Dylan experience.

“If we can make a movie that lets you feel the way a Pearl Jam concert or record lets you feel, then we’re in good shape.”

(Photo: U2′s Bono at TIFF, courtesy of Crucial Pictures)

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