Film Review: Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band (2019)

owbIn his 2007 book I Am A Strange Loop, scholar Douglas Hofstadter described the memory of an individual as a sort of mosaic comprised of “coarser grain” and like “blurry copies” of that person’s experiences and encounters. While the march of time contributes to the general fuzziness of memories as they become more and more distant, sentimentality might sometimes color the perceptions of reminiscences, as well. So when the opportunity emerges to chronicle the rise and demise of an influential cultural force as The Band, it’s surely a daunting challenge to wade through decades of emotion and influence to assemble a compelling and accurate depiction of the group, both as people and as a phenomenon. Thankfully, Daniel Roher and a team of producers were up for the challenge, as is evident by their 2019 film Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band.

The film presents a stirring depiction of the Canadian group The Band, told mostly from the perspective of Robbie Robertson, who served as a guitarist and songwriter for the group. His recollections, told in intimate, confessional-style interviews, are complemented by accounts from his peers and fellow travelers, including blues icon Taj Mahal, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and celebrated recording artist Bob Dylan. Dylan, who was backed by The Band from 1965 to 1967, is arguably one of the most important presences in the film (perhaps a close second to Robertson himself) as his firsthand accounts of The Band during its formative years provide invaluable texture to the stuff of rock legend. Roher’s use of archival footage in this endeavor is particularly noteworthy, offering candid and somewhat rare glimpses into the process and product of The Band at all stages of their collective and individual endeavors.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is a rock and roll enthusiast’s dream, told in documentary style but infused with the kind of detail and pathos that lend essential credibility to its overarching narrative. Although a certain subgroup of critical viewers may lament the emphasis on Robertson’s role in the story, it is largely his accounts that ensure that the portrait of The Band that emerges through Once Were Brothers is sharp and defined so that its finer points aren’t reduced to just another fuzzy mosaic.

Inside Your Head offers a tip of the cap to Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, awarding the film four out of five golden tophats.


Mike Bessler
February 2020

Terence Gordon and Terra Renee

Terence Gordon director of “What’s In A Name: The Alfredo Versace Story” and producer Terra Renee president of AAWIC (African American Women In Cinema) joined “Nasty” Neal! Come see “What’s In A Name” January 25 at the AAWIC Sundance special film screening program during Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah!
Reserve your complimentary tickets today! 
African American Women In Cinema

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“Growing Up”  by Eytan Mirsky

Film Review: In the Absence

in-the-absencePopular expectations often compel filmmakers to portray large-scale disasters – whether fictional or dramatized accounts of actual events – with considerable bombast and sensationalism. And while the present era is one in which skewed, muddled, and opinion-based reporting dominate all forms of media, there remain people who regard stark, unembellished truth-telling as both art and necessity, including Director Seung-jun Yi, whose Academy Award film In the Absence offers a concise but harrowing chronicle of the Sewol ferry disaster.

The MV Sewol capsized in the Yellow Sea off the coast of South Korea on April 16, 2014, ultimately sinking and claiming the lives of 304 passengers in the process. Among the deceased were 250 high school students, many of whom made efforts to contact family and friends as they helplessly awaited their demise. In the Absence chronicles the tragedy in heart-wrenching detail, melding together harrowing video of the incident at every stage with audio of government dispatches and conversations and messages sent by trapped and helpless passengers. In a decidedly cruel irony, the story unfolds amidst the scenery of shimmering waters and distant mountains, transforming an otherwise breathtaking panorama into a hellscape stained by human suffering.

What emerges through Yi’s masterfully edited montage of primary source material, is a sobering reminder of the high cost of bureaucracy, malfeasance, and incompetence, especially when innocent lives hang in the balance. Indeed, the sinking of the Sewol set into motion a scandal that rocked South Korean society and government, eventually resulting in civil and criminal penalties against many individuals and instructions, including South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who was ultimately expelled from office for her lack of leadership and action in the early, critical hours of the tragedy.

Seung-jun Yi’s In the Absence presents the story of the Sewol disaster with simplicity and sensitivity, providing a respectful platform for the tragedy’s underrepresented victims and those who have carried on without them while quietly suffering and searching for answers. In the Absence is not a lighthearted cinematic experience, but it is a necessary one that reminds audiences that the chaos and uncertainty of life is often compounded by the disconnect between those of power and influence and the everyday people.

Inside Your Head offers a tip of the proverbial cap to In the Absence, awarding this film four and a half out of five golden top hats.


Mike Bessler, January 2020


Bruce Sudano


Bruce Sudano covering so much ground. The fall of Disco, being in an interracial relationship in the 70s, the passing of his wife Donna Summers, the emotional aspect of writing and performing music, storytelling through music, changes in the industry, upcoming Donna Summers documentary etc. So much more, even some accordion talk.

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“With Him” by “Bruce Sudano”