Documentaries about pop stars including M.I.A and British singer songwriter Ed Sheeran, as well as more esoteric indie artists such as The Go Betweens and The Slits, have been drumming up interest in the rock doc genre in Berlin.
Buyers and sellers have told Deadline that there’s growing interest in the genre following the success of films such as Asif Kapadia’s Amy and Brett Morgen’s Nirvana feature Montage of Heck.
Steve Loveridge’s film, Matanga/Maya/M.I.A, about Sri Lankan-born hip hop artist Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam – known professionally as M.I.A., is one of the hottest tickets in town. The film, which is being sold internationally at EFM by Dogwoof, follows the Paper Planes singer’s life and career. Produced by Lori Cheatle, Andrew Goldman, Paul Mezey and exec produced by Philipp Engelhorn and Michael Raisler, the doc uses archive material from the last 20 years, most of which was shot by M.I.A. herself.
Loveridge, who went to art school with Arulpragasam, tells Deadline that making a film about someone you know is hard. “Most music documentaries are very different to this. I remember the footage was so good but it initially was so hard to wrest it out of the music industry and get it out in to the film world, to make it a proper film alongside other documentaries not something that’s next to albums and serving some kind of promotion tool for the music industry,” he adds.
Loveridge moved to New York to finish the film, which the pair admit took longer than expected to finish, something that frustrated the artist. Arulpragasam, who moved from Sri Lanka to the UK as a child and whose father was a Tamil fighter, tells Deadline, “Steve wouldn’t allow me to come into the edit, he thought I’d hijack it to make it a promotional tool, yet I’m very bad at selling my albums and nobody buys them so I didn’t take that as a good enough excuse,” adding that she now wants to make her own film, possibly a musical.
The film ends with M.I.A’s Borders video, which she filmed in Chennai in 2015, something that Loveridge said bookended Arulpragasam’s pop and politics. Loveridge joked: “I did watch other documentaries and thought it’s really good when they die at the end.”
The other hot rock doc at the festival is Ed Sheeran film Songwriter. The doc, which is directed by Sheeran’s cousin Murray Cummings, looks at The A Team writer’s creative process. Cummings toured with Sheeran for a number of years and always had his camera on, often giving his footage to other TV docs as well as tour film Jumpers for Goalposts.
“I thought it’d be more interesting to see the other side,” he tells Deadline. “I felt privileged to be allowed in the studio. I met a lot of his fans on tour and I realized they would love to be sat where I’m sat so I thought wouldn’t it be cool to make something where they can be sat in with him while he’s writing a song.”
The film, which was produced by Cummings and Kimmie Kim and was exec produced by Stuart Camp and Stefan Demetriou, comes to Berlin unattached after Cummings funded it entirely himself with the help of “mates’ rates” from editors Ben Wainwright-Pearce and Alejandro Reyes-Knight.
“I’ve had thoughts about how I wanted to release it. I’m interested in the next way that films can be seen and distributed, not that I’m definitely going to go that way for this one, but I’m definitely open to listening to all sorts of offers. The basic plan is to go to the festival first, completely unattached and independent and see what happens. It’s going to be an interesting ride,” says Cummings, who added that he wants to write and direct his own script for his next project.
Elsewhere, slightly more independent artists are also accruing interest from international buyers. British firm Moviehouse Entertainment, which is run by Mark Vennis and Gary Phillips, are shopping two rock docs, The Go Betweens: Right Here and Here To Be Heard: The Story of the Slits, at EFM. Vennis tells me that there is growing space for films about slightly more esoteric artists with international fan bases.
The Go Betweens: Right Here, which is directed by Kriv Stenders and produced by Joe Weatherstone for Essential Media, tells the story of the “indie Fleetwood Mac”, which was formed by Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. It follows their successes, failures, romances, break-ups, betrayals, triumphs and tragedies. Here To Be Heard: The Story of the Slits, meanwhile, tells the story of the world’s first all-girl punk band, which formed in London in 1976. Directed by William Badgley and produced by Badgley and Mark Vennis, it features interviews with bandmember Viv Albertine, as well as Don Letts and Sex Pistol Paul Cook.
The latter will be released in the UK theatrically in March and April, as part of a “theatrical tour”, while Moviehouse has also sold the broadcast rights to Sky Arts. Vennis says that releasing these types of projects is far more akin to putting out a record than releasing a tentpole studio movie.
Also on the punk front, Ryan Kampe’s New York firm Visit Films has boarded Rubika Shah’s documentary White Riot and has been selling it at EFM. The film, which is based on Shah’s short White Riot: London that premiered at Sundance 2017,
White Riot, which is currently in production, tells the story of how punk influenced politics in late-1970s Britain and follows three artists and fanzine creator who fought Nazis. It features interviews with members of The Clash and Joy Division, as well as Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello and Pete Townshend.
Finally, Michael Jackson is back in Berlin, the scene of his infamous baby-dangling incident at the Hotel Adlon. This time, however, it’s Michael Jackson tribute acts, appearing in Mirroring Michael Jackson. The doc, which is being sold by DocMode at EFM, follows fans from all over the world who honor the King of Pop as well as an interview with Jackson’s former bass player Alex Al, who is composing and producing the doc’s score.
“Since Michael Jackson’s passing, his legion of fans has looked to the MJ tribute artists for comfort and solace as a way to cope with their immense loss. We believe that now, more than ever before, the story of these remarkable and talented Michael Jackson tribute artists needs to be told. The film itself is a tribute. It is in loving memory of Michael Jackson,” says producer Kira Madallo Sesay.