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Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is a confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robbie Robertson's young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band. The film is a moving story of Robertson's personal journey, overcoming adversity and finding camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become his brothers in music and who together made their mark on music history. 

"They were more Canadian than American, with only Arkansas native Levon Helm having been born below the 49th Parallel. The other four members — Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson — were all from Ontario.

Yet The Band defined the roots-rock sound that came to be known as Americana, beginning with songs like “The Weight,” “Tears of Rage” and “Chest Fever,” off the landmark Music From Big Pink album of 1968. With its blend of rock, country, folk, bluegrass and R&B, the group distilled the expansive spirit of a pioneering nation that often seems at odds with its own high ideals.

Such contradictions were evident in the group, too, as Toronto filmmaker Daniel Roher (Ghosts of Our Forest) finds in Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, a documentary drawn in part from Testimony, guitarist/songwriter Robertson’s 2016 autobiography.

The film, the recent gala opener at TIFF 2019, is very much Robertson’s version of the truth. Drummer/vocalist Helm, guitarist/vocalist Danko and keyboardist/vocalist Manuel are dead, seen and heard only in archival footage, while keyboardist Garth Hudson’s participation in the project was limited — he’s also seen only in archived interviews and performances. But the story rings true as it accounts how drugs, petty jealousies and other demons ultimately undid these Fab Five musicians.

Robertson and his bandmates were at first inseparable and almost anonymous — hence “The Band” as their ironic moniker — although they toured as The Hawks in the early 1960s, when they were backing Toronto-based Arkansas rocker Ronnie Hawkins.

The film pays more attention to these formative years than do most docs on The Band, which are usually in a hurry to get to the latter part of the ’60s and early 1970s, when the five musicians were backing Bob Dylan and also emerging as a force unto themselves." - Toronto Star

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Directed by: 
Daniel Roher
Running Time: 
Canada, USA

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