Once Were Brothers

Source: Courtesy of TIFF. Photo by David Gahr

Once Were Brothers

The world premiere of Daniel Roher’s documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band has been selected as the opening night gala of the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 5.

The premiere screens at Roy Thomson Hall and marks the first time a Canadian-made documentary will open the festival. The documentary is inspired by Robertson’s 2016 memoir, Testimony, and tells the story of how he overcame adversity and found camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become his collaborators in rock group The Band.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band uses rare archival footage, photography, iconic songs, and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Martin Scorsese (whose 1978 documentary The Last Waltz chronicled The Band’s 1976 farewell gig), Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, and Ronnie Hawkins.

The film is a joint venture between Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Documentaries, and Canadian companies White Pine Pictures, Bell Media Studios, and Universal Music’s Shed Creative.

“This is one of Toronto’s great stories of a hometown hero,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF artistic director and co-head, who announced the opening film with co-head and executive director Joana Vicente on Thursday (18). “From his early years in this city, to the inspiration he took from life on the Six Nations reserve, to the impact he’s had on generations of music lovers, Robertson emerges in Roher’s film as a truly Canadian-made superstar. In our first year as TIFF’s Co-Heads, Joana and I are thrilled to open the Festival with a Canadian story that speaks to the world.”

“This stirring documentary takes audiences on a musical journey and shows us just what it takes to build one of the most significant groups in rock history,” said Vicente. “Robertson is a Canadian music icon, and his moving story of persistence and passion is the perfect way to begin Festival 2019 for both Cameron and me. We’re eager to share the excitement of Opening Night with Toronto’s film lovers, and audiences can expect some very special guests joining us to help celebrate.”

“Robertson’s tale is a remarkable reminder of how vision, ambition, and hard work can empower one’s wildest dreams,” said Roher. “Robbie took a chance on me, and I will be forever grateful that he rolled the dice on a kid from Toronto to helm his story. Opening the Toronto International Film Festival is beyond some wildest dreams of my own and I am thankful for everyone who believed in me.”

“I’m so tremendously honoured that the premiere of Once Were Brothers, inspired by my memoir Testimony, will be the opening movie at TIFF this year, in my hometown of Toronto, Ontario, Canada,” said Robertson.

Scorsese, Imagine Entertainment chairmen Grazer and Howard, Justin Wilkes and Sara Bernstein for Imagine Documentaries, White Pines Pictures president Peter Raymont, and COO Steve Ord, Bell Media president Randy Lennox; Jared Levine, Michael Levine, Universal Music Canada president and CEO Jeffrey Remedios; and Shed Creative managing director Dave Harris serve as executive producers.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band will stream on Crave in Canada later this year.

TIFF runs from September 5–15, 2019 and top brass will announce gala and special presentations on July 23.