This week launches the 2016 Nashville Film Festival and you better believe Music City will be showcasing many music-based documentaries this year. One of those many is, The Man from Mo’Wax, a 109 minute music documentary following the band UNKLE.
Currently in post-production, this official documentary about the music band UNKLE is a revealing exposé on the music industry’s evolution over the past 20 years. Told through the eyes of James Lavelle & UNKLE, it explores the devastating effects of rapid change and excess on the industry and the individuals within the band.
The film features exclusive footage from James Lavelle and DJ Shadow that features musicians like Thom Yorke, Ian Brown, Jarvis Cocker and many more. Capture partnered with 28 Entertainment in LA and Goldfinch Entertainment in London to make Artist & Repertoire.
I had the opportunity to chat with the documentary director, Matthew Jones and ask him some questions as a preview to seeing the film this weekend at the Nashville Film Fest.
“It’s taken over 9 years to get here. Nearly a decade,” Matthew started, when I asked about how the documentary came about. “It’s been very organic, we set out to make a tour film about UNKLe’s 3rd album, War Stories and over the years, as we got to know James Lavelle really well, understand his history and all the wonderful things he’s accomplished, it just got more and more interesting. Ultimately we realized James Lavelle was a unique figure in world music, who else has created his own label twice and emerged as an Artist in his own right? His story really is without comparison and spans music from across the world. So the more we looked into his amazing past the more we believed there was a really epic, life affirming film there.”
After deciding the film would revolve around the life and story of, James, it was up to Jones to decipher a comprehensive vision; something that would tie everything together and not only grab a viewers attention but hold onto it.
“Once we’d researched his past, I always planned to try and structure the film in a linear fashion. So you see him grow up across a 25 year period. I wanted to celebrate his achievements, the music side but also things like the collaborations with Nike on Bespoke sneakers, James was going that route years before Kanye West. What’s interesting is James is very much an underground star, I wanted to try and hold up his achievements whilst having them alongside his mistakes. I wanted a roller-coaster of a film that took you into the life of a one off icon. I think it’s more immersive seeing him gradually shape shift across the years, and you see the world more from his POV as the music industry around him changes, he tries to find his way through the minefield. Ultimately it’s a film about friendships, about the bonds that come to define us, and asks the question ‘is success worth it at the detriment of our greatest friendships?”
Being a director isn’t only about teaching a morale or subject of a film to your audience, it’s about learning things along the way. Jones immersed himself in this process of nearly a decade, so I was curious about what he learned surrounding himself with the content and trying to form it into a documentary unlike many others.
“There is a line in the film about the bravest thing; about setting out on a creative endeavor and the idea that your grand idea might not work out. The concept that underpins all creative industries is an act of faith to create something new from nothing, and within that is a secretive layer of inner doubt in all creatives and the fear of failure looms large. It’s the biggest motivator and the biggest fear.”
As for the highlight of the film, Jones says,
“James in the studio with Thom Yorke from Radiohead, Ian Brown from The Stone Rosse, Josh Homme from Queens of The Stone Age and DJ Shadow climbing over mountains of vinyl. James’ career has touched so many other artists and musical genres, personally I love our ending, but I can’t give away any spoilers here,” he laughed.
“I think some people may look at this like a James Lavelle fluff piece, but he opened up to us, allowed us amazing access to his inner circle – he trusted us, and this really is a worts and all approach. We celebrate his achievements and rightly so, whilst showing the dark struggles he’s come through in a very candid manner.”
It was obvious after speaking with Jones that he was not only passionate about the film he created, but the person and artist it revolved around. He felt that the story not only needed to be shared, but appreciated and he was willing to put years of time and work into creating something not for what it could become, but for what it was.
The film premiered at SXSW’s 2016 Film Festival and will be touching down in the city of all things music, Nashville, TN the end of this week. I am beyond excited to see the story unfold before me.
As for describing the documentary in one word, Jones ended our conversation on “determination” and I think that pretty much sums this up.