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Faces of the Festival: Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen

The directors of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage sat down the day of the world premiere of their documentary to discuss diving into the world of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart.



There are few rock fans like Rush fans, as we found out here at the Festival when we met father and son duo Mike and Chris Wilson, who got in line for rush tickets at 9:45 am the morning of the world premiere of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. The documentary about the fearsomely talented trio of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart looks at each stage of their long and industrious career, from when Lee and Lifeson met in junior high to the present day. Rush also features a wealth of interviews with musicians who were influenced by them—from Trent Reznor to Billy Corgan, Jack Black—and Geddy's and Alex's moms, as well as tons of footage and photos.


The line waiting to get in to see the documentary was yet another testament to the dedication of Rush's fanbase: as ticket-holders arrived, the line inched along 23rd street towards 9th Avenue. As we stood eagerly waiting in line, I struck up a conversation with the fellow next to me, who had seen Rush in concert 42 times and planned to see them again three times this summer. Once inside, the energy was palpable, and it only increased as we saw who would be attending. First, Kiefer Sutherland of 24 sat down (he's not in the documentary, just a Rush fan!), and then later Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, who talks in the doc about how Rush got him to read The Fountainhead at age 12, arrived with a group of friends. Once directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen arrived, folks started getting excited because we knew what that meant—the movie would be starting soon! But not before two really special guests arrived: Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.


While Lee and Lifeson didn't stay for the Q&A afterwards—McFadyen joked with the audience, "I don't think the guys stayed around to watch, because, as Geddy said when he watched it the first time, 'Can you put a little less of me in it?'"—the fans had plenty to say to the directors.


"Thank you for recognizing female Rush fans," said one diehard femme fan in the audience. Donna Halper, the Cleveland disc jockey who exposed Rush to the world, was also at the screening, and during the Q&A, she said, "I want to thank you for having such deep respect for this band, because this is something that every band will tell you. Rush has a great respect for their music. They have great respect for their fans, and you made a documentary that speaks to that respect… and I just wanted to thank you." Others told the directors they had shared the music of Rush with their parents or their children.

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
is playing throughout the Festival, and will be released in theaters nationwide this June. Rush is going on a 40-city tour this summer, starting at the end of June. For more information on the film, go to the official website. Read on for a special interview with directors Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen (Iron Maiden: Flight 666; Global Metal; Metal: A Headbanger's Journey).


Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee at the Rush: Behind the Lighted Stage Premiere NYC

Photo by Joe Corrigan, Courtesy of Getty Images After Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, what made you decide to drill down and focus on Rush?


Scot McFadyen: Well, we did Global Metal and then… we approached Iron Maiden and we approached Rush, because they were two bands that we thought really deserved a documentary to be done about them. They're bands that are still relevant and around and very influential, and then Rush agreed and then Iron Maiden agreed at the same time, so it was a pretty crazy time. That was at the end of 2007. But mostly for Rush—for me too, which is part of it—is that they're a very unique Canadian story to where I grew up and the suburbs and all these people being first generation [immigrants] and coming together, and there's just something about their story that's very close to my own [experience], and I thought it was important to build the mythology of the rock and roll history around my city… You always hear about New York or London and that's where rock and roll comes from—that was the main motivator for me.


Sam Dunn:
Well, they're the longest-running intact rock band of all time, and they've never had a film made about them, so I think I was certainly fascinated with how does a band accomplish that, and particularly how does a band that goes through so many stylistic changes over its career, maintain its integrity and maintain a fanbase through all of that, because I think a lot of bands change their sound, change their look, and they get abandoned or they get written off in terms of their artistic integrity. It was fascinating that here was this band that's like no other in that sense, and they never had their story told, and I think that certainly piqued my interest. I'm really interested in the male bonding aspect of Rush, like in I Love You, Man.


I think that we're dealing in a lot of stereotypes, but it's something you can't avoid, right? For some reason, women have liked music that's has a little more "hip" in it, you know, so a little more dance, something they can move to, at that time, and Rush is very kind of mathematical and, you know, science-based. [laughs] Why are there more men in science? And I think that also being picking up a guitar or being a musician when you're a kid has been a very male thing, to be a rock star, and having to learn their music makes you appreciate them. I think any musician who tries to play their stuff appreciates them, and I think it's changing, as we show in the film; there are more women into it now, but it's not very sexy music. [laughs] They've been around and tirelessly releasing music and performing, but it's almost as if they've enjoyed a sort of resurgence among pop culture.


We were fascinated by how it's really the first time in Rush's history that they've been embraced by popular culture, is right now, and I think it's a combination of a lot of people that were into them in the early days that are coming back to them and re-appreciating their music. I think it's because they've come back to a more hard rock sound [so] those fans who were into them during 2112 and Farewell to Kings and are coming back to them now, as well. There seems to be, as Matt Stone says, you've just gotta give it up for them. If you don't, you're just being an old d*ckhead. Like, he sort of nails it, right? That you've got to sort of appreciate the fact that this band has survived so long, regardless of what you think of their, all of their records.


And one thing I'll add, too, is that fashion ages; music doesn't... They've always focused on music, and that's aged well. How did you get access to them and to so much footage and so many photos?


It was just a time of research, because one thing you look at [is] there's some crazy Rush fans out there that have collected everything, so our goal was to try to A, build on what they had and [B,] show them stuff they'd never seen before. So there was a combination of Geddy taking Sam into his basement to open up boxes of stuff he hasn't looked into for photographs. There was an old documentary that was made by this Allan King, a famous Canadian documentary filmmaker, that happened to star Alex and so [we] had great Super 16 stuff of him that looks like it's just—people can't believe we have this footage, you know? One of the most amazing finds was finding a tape in the archives of the band that had just a question mark on it, but [in] an obscure format that we had to send away to Holland to get transferred. And we thought it was something else… It came back, and it was the first performance of them playing at a high school that everyone thought had been lost. So amazing stuff that we found, and then just being persistent. [laughs] What was the craziest or more intense thing that happened while you were making this film?


I think filming Neil on his motorbike out in California was pretty powerful. Being with him out in the mountains was a great experience because we knew how solitary and independent of a person he is, and to be given that opportunity to be out with him and to talk about his life and the things that have happened to him, I think, for us was a real breakthrough moment, and very memorable. Being out in those mountains for a day with Neil is like, that's the stuff that you look back on, I think, and really, really enjoy. What would your advice be to aspiring filmmakers and/or documentarians?


I made a shift from academia to filmmaking, and academic work is very solitary and very independent, and filmmaking is not, and I think that what I've learned is the value of having a great team of people, because creating a film is not a simple exercise. It requires the expertise of a lot of people, and I think that that's something that I've definitely learned, is the value of building a good team of people to work with you, who believe in you, and to some extent are also willing to take those risks along with you, that you have to take. What kind of stuff—art, TV, music, movies—are you recommending to your friends most right now?


Boy. Really into making our own films! Been really into making our next series, to be honest, and it's not a plug. It's just, that's we've been doing, we've been filming our new series since January, and doing an 8-episode series on the history of hard rock and metal music called Metal Evolution, and it's really required a lot of rethinking of stories that have been told a lot. Like, grunge music, for example, is a very well-trodden story and we're trying to tell it in a different way, and it's exciting but it's also very challenging to get people to rethink things. So, believe it or not, I've actually been listening to a lot of Creed and Nickelback [laughs] because no one talked about where grunge went after Kurt Cobain died. The common perception is that grunge ended, but there's actually a legacy of grunge, musically, that I think continues today, and that's what we've been exploding, and learning how uncool it is to listen to Nickelback! [laughs] It's not easy to get people to talk about Nickelback in a critical perspective or in a thoughtful perspective, so that's what I've been focusing on.


I have been recommending a book, Werner Herzog, his diaries when he was doing Fitzcarraldo. Then you realize how insanely focused you have to be to make a film. That's a cool book.


Andre Agassi's biography. We've avid tennis players, and Andre Agassi's biography is one of the most amazing books that I've read in a long, long time, and I would love to make a film about him and his journey because it's really, really remarkable. Sit here long enough, and we'll just keep thinking of something. [laughs] Awesome. If you could have dinner with any filmmaker alive or dead—or a dinner party—who would it be?


Werner seems… I don't know, he's probably a bit of an egotistical guy, but he's pretty interesting and pretty crazy. I think it would be cool, for sure.


Same. He's a really, really intriguing character. [laughs] Yeah, so far he's getting a lot of dinner invitations among the people I've asked. So what makes your movie a Tribeca must-see?


Well, I think that it's unique, that's all. I think the story is unique, the band is unique. There are lot of films out there; there are a lot of must-see's, but it's definitely unique and stands [apart].


I think the tagline, "The band you know, the story you don't," really fits, because I think this is a band that for Rush fans—Rush fans know them intimately, but I think our hope was to bring to light some aspects of their career and their personalities and their motivations that will surprise people, even the fans that know them so intimately, so we hope that there's something in it for the diehard Rush fan but also for the people that may have just liked one of their records and kind of forgot about.


Find out where and when you can catch Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage at the Festival, and visit the official website for more info on when it's coming to your town.


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