Robbie Robertson Explains Why New The Band Documentary Won’t Be a Puff Piece


A documentary film long in the works called Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is now a joint venture between Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Documentaries, and Canadian companies White Pine Pictures, Bell Media Studios and Universal Music's Shed Creative — an American-Canadian collaboration, just the same as The Band.

The film — set to be released theatrically this fall and on Canadian on-demand subscription service Crave early next year — is directed by Daniel Roher (Survivors Rowe) and will be executive produced by Martin Scorsese along with Grazer and Howard.

Scorsese, of course, directed The Last Waltz, which captured The Band's 1976 farewell concert appearance with guests such as Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Neil Diamond.

The 75-year-old Robertson, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame Thursday night (May 9) at Toronto's Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards, has an incredibly busy year, including finishing a new solo album, scoring the music for Scorsese's new film, The Irishman, remixing music for the 50th anniversary reissue of The Band album, and writing the follow-up memoir to 2016's Testimony.

Of the documentary, he told Billboard: "It's highly influenced by Testimony and, and as the filmmakers have gone deeper and deeper into that world, it has taken in more things than just what I was talking about in telling this story. The people that are working on it are fantastic. I'm honored to have Imagine Entertainment behind this. This project originated in Canada and the filmmakers were the ones that came to me and said, 'We have to make this documentary.'"

The doc also includes rare archival footage and interviews with many of Robertson's pals, including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Martin Scorsese, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, David Geffen and Ronnie Hawkins.

"I have no idea what they said about me," said Robertson. "The filmmakers aren't going, 'We're trying to see if we can get a bunch of famous people in this.' They're really focused on the filmmaking and telling a story that we haven't heard before. I'm looking forward to seeing what they're doing. There's great people involved in it."

As covered in Testimony, detailing the first three decades of his life, he was born in Toronto and spent his early years on the nearby Six Nations Reserve and the Jewish area of Toronto's downtown. A guitar prodigy, he joined his first bands at age 14 and was recruited at 17 by rockabilly artist Ronnie Hawkins for his backing band, the Hawks. Bob Dylan then used the Hawks on tour for his electric sets in 1965 and 1966 and recorded The Basement Tapes with them.

Breaking out on their own, The Hawks renamed themselves The Band and cut their seminal debut, Music from Big Pink, in 1968. Over the course of seven studio albums, Robertson penned such classics as "The Weight," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Acadian Driftwood" and "It Makes No Difference."

After The Last Waltz, the relationship with "Marty," as Robertson calls him, continued, as the film director hired him to produced music for such films as Raging Bull, The Color of Money, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street — and this year's true life mob story The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, distributed by Netflix

He has also released five solo albums with his sixth due later this year, and two books for young readers, 2013's Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed The World; and 2015's Hiawatha and the Peacemaker.

Besides his most recent Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame induction, Robertson has the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as lifetime awards from the National Academy of Songwriters and the Native American Music Awards. In Canada he has won several Juno awards, been commemorated twice by Canada's Walk of Fame, been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame, made an Officer of the Order of Canada and received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award. Alongside The Band, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is being executive produced by Justin Wilkes and Sara Bernstein for Imagine Documentaries; White Pines Pictures' president Peter Raymont, and Steve Ord; Jared Levine; Michael Levine; Bell Media president, Randy Lennox; Universal Music Canada president and CEO Jeffrey Remedios; and Shed Creative's managing director Dave Harris.