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Review: ‘Once Were Brothers’ is a Captivating, Star-Studded Documentary

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band is a Magnolia Pictures documentary that was inspired by Robertson’s memoir, Testimony. It was directed by Daniel Roher and is a “confessional, cautionary and sometimes humorous tale of Robertson’s young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music.”

The new documentary features footage from the past along with interviews from Robertson’s friends and collaborators. That includes Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Martin, Martin Scorsese, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, David Geffen and Ronnie Hawkins. The star-studded nature of the film made it memorable and credible. They all weighed in on the greatness and importance of The Band, from their introduction in backing Bob Dylan to their catalog of classic music.

Robertson himself is the most captivating part of this documentary. His charisma in telling his story is unparalleled. He has an impressive ability to tell a story that completely engulfs the viewers. Robertson tells stories about being born on a reservation, about learning that the man who raised him wasn’t his father and he tells the story of how he fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll music.

The days are recounted by Robertson with archival footage and interviews woven in between. This unique way of storytelling makes the documentary a balance between fun and informative.

One of the stories that stuck with me long after I finished the film was the story that Robertson told about Dylan hiring them to go on tour. In an interesting turn of events, that opportunity turned into fans actually booing them night after night — even throwing things at them. Why were they so mad? Because Dylan decided to go electric.

These men played together for over sixteen years and, at the toughest of times, music was the glue that kept them together. The story is so inspiring because it showed what perseverance and hard work can do. In all, we saw not only their passion but their love for music and their happiness that came from it.

First-time full-length director Roher gives us a fantastic behind-the-music style documentary. It’s packed full of fantastic interviews and narrated beautifully by Robertson himself.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band opens at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville tonight (Feb. 28). Find out more and get tickets here.

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