“Everyone has a song,” Robbie Robertson sang in “Making a Noise,” about his Mohawk roots. “That’s how we know who we are.” The guitarist will reacquaint audiences with his legendary group The Band in the documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, which opens this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, according to Variety.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, directed by Daniel Roher (Ghosts of Our Forest), was inspired by Robertson’s 2016 memoir Testimony. The film tells the history of The Band from when Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm put together a group which would back Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan and go on to become one of the most influential groups in rock history.
The documentary features archival footage and interviews with collaborators Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, Hawkins and Martin Scorsese, who executive produced the film and shot the group at their farewell concert for the 1978 concert film The Last Waltz. Scorsese is also an executive producer, along with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.
The film “tells the moving story of Robertson’s personal journey as he overcame adversity and found camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become his brothers in music, and who together made their mark on music history,” according to the official synopsis.
Robertson, who composed the scores for the films Gangs of New York and The Departed, was 16 years old when he joined Hawkins’ band the Hawks. Robertson and drummer Helm performed in Dylan’s backing band along with Harvey Brooks and Al Kooper at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Forest Hills, New York on August 28, 1965, and at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on Sept. 3 when the folk singer went electric. The Band backed Dylan from February to May 1966 for his world tour, and collaborated on the Basement Tapes.
While the Band’s performance was not included in the Woodstock film, “The Weight” from their first album Music from Big Pink, did make it into the 1969 counterculture classic Easy Rider. The Band went on to record hits like “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Unfaithful Servant,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Acadian Driftwood,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
This marks the first time TIFF is opening with a Canadian-made documentary. The festival opened with Netflix’s historical drama Outlaw King last year.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band will make its world premiere as the opening night gala film at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 5. It will launch on the Bell Media streaming service later this year. The 44th Toronto Film Festival is set to run Sept. 5 to 15.
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Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.