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Ronnie James Dio Gets His Heavy Metal Moment In ‘Dreamers Never Die’ Doc – SXSW

Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio, the man who is single handedly responsible for creating metal horns, has sold over 50M albums and fronted some of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands including Rainbow and Black Sabbath.

While he’s often on the list of greatest heavy metal singers, because he was not known for raucous behavior in the way many of his peers were – there were no cocaine binges, wild strip club nights or never landed in jail – his story has been somewhat passed over.

Until now, hope directors Don Argott and Demian Fenton, who are behind Dio: Dreamers Never Die, a rock doc launching at SXSW.

Argott told Deadline that the singer doesn’t have the “archetypical” rock n roll story. “He’s basically had three incredible careers that, frankly, any artist would be lucky enough to have one of those careers. From a storytelling standpoint, we looked at how you tell that story and not make it feel like it’s the same story over and over again. History presents its own group of challenges that you have to overcome. It’s a little refreshing to not be the typical Behind the Music, by the numbers rock documentary where everything is pretty expected,” he added.

Fenton added, “It’s a story that I feel like we just need now, it’s so beautiful that you’re looking at this heavy metal dude and you think you know the tale full of darkness but it’s really a story of righteousness and perseverance and packaged in this interesting world.”

Dio, who died in 2010, started life as a crooner in the 1950s as a member of the Vegas Kings. In the late 60s, he formed Elf and then he joined Rainbow with Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, before replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath in 1979 and then going on to form his own band Dio, which sold over 20M albums.

The pair said that Dio is essentially a Heavy Metal Mr. Rogers. However, instead of wearing a sweater and teaching kids with puppets, he fights 30-feet tall animatronic dragons on stage.

The pair used archival photos and VHS video clips to piece together Dio’s story – as if they were metalheads hijacking the high-school AV room – as well as handwritten messages. The film also includes a range of talking heads, including Dio superfan Jack Black, former bands members such as Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, Rob Halford, The Runaways’ Lita Ford and author Mick Wall.

Argott and Fenton are the perfect duo to take on the film. They are metalheads who have cornered the market for interesting documentary stories in the genre, having directed films such as Last Days Here, the story of Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling and his attempts to overcome drug addiction, and As The Palaces Burn, a wild film about Lamb of God lead singer Randy Blythe, who is arrested on manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic as a result of a fatal incident involving a fan at a concert.

So, you can imagine they were interested when they received a note from BMG Films chief Kathy Rivkin Daum, who had seen their film Believer, asking if they’d be keen to talk about a Dio doc.

“Kathy had pitched us a couple of projects, and they were cool but none of them were ready to go. Then I got an email late on a Friday and the subject was Dio. Any interest? I thought, ‘Holy f*cking shit’. It was the perfect email at the perfect time to the perfect people,” says Argott.

Then the pair met with Dio’s widow Wendy, who oversees the Dio estate. “Clearly to make a Dio documentary, you have to have her blessing, because she’s in control of Ronnie’s legacy and it’s very important to her. But BMG and Wendy were hands off to the point where we made the whole film and they didn’t really see a frame,” says Argott.

The pair subsequently flew to LA to screen the film and on their way to the screening room, bought a box of tissues as they knew it might bring a few tears.

The end of the film does bring a few tears, even to its hardest edge metal contributors. But it also frames Dio’s legacy in a new light. “The only people who don’t love Ronnie is because they haven’t encountered him,” says Argott. “My mom knows about Ozzy, but she doesn’t know about Ronnie yet.”

Fenton adds that it’s not like Dio sounds like Napalm Death.

Submarine is selling at SXSW and the hope is that with the boom in music documentaries, particularly across streaming services, is that it will find a good home. “I feel confident that it’ll find a home. But it’s still nerve racking as filmmaker. We’ve been doing it for a long time but you still have to get asked to the dance,” says Argott.

Dio: Dreamers Never Die is directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton and produced by Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Wendy Dio and Kathy Rivkin Daum are exec producers. It premieres at SXSW on March 17 at 4pm CT.

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