Ryan Suffern, the director of Running Blind (Mountainfilm 2013) and editor of Bidder 70 (Mountainfilm 2012), shares the tangled web that brought him to this year's Bonnaroo with Alex Ebert, lead singer of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros.
As a lover of live music, I’ve long toyed with the idea of attending Bonnaroo, the annual four-day musical festival that takes place on a large farm in Manchester, Tennessee. For the past 12 years, they’ve managed to book a who’s who of bands and artists from Radiohead to Stevie Wonder, The Beastie Boys to Bruce Springsteen and seemingly everyone in between. So when my directors Beth & George Gage asked if I’d be interested in representing Bidder 70 at the festival, though I had no idea they even played movies at Bonnaroo, I jumped at the chance.
As I would later find out, Bonnaroo has a cinema tent that screens a diverse selection of films throughout the fest. The advocacy organization Rock the Earth hosts four films, one each day, for its Green Screens program, a series of award-winning environmental documentaries. Bidder 70 was to be one of those films.
So in mid-June, I made the trek out from Los Angeles, and what I experienced over three days on that farm greatly exceeded my already-high expectations. For starters, I got to see a Beatle live in concert, and no, it wasn’t Ringo! But the best part of the festival for me was the full circle moment I experienced when Alex Ebert introduced our documentary to the full house inside the cinema tent.
Flashback to late summer 2010, and I’m interviewing over the phone with the Gages, who I’d yet to meet in person, to edit their film on Tim DeChristopher. George mentions that they’re excited because “The Magnetic Zeros” have agreed to lend their music to the film. In response, I distinctly remember saying, “Hold on, do you mean Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros?” The LA-based band was, and continues to be, one of my favorite musical acts of the last five years, and when George confirmed that was exactly who he meant, I knew I wanted the gig badly.
Turns out, Beth and George are good friends with Michael Ebert, who lives near Telluride and is the father of the band’s lead singer, Alex. Through the Gages, Michael learned of Tim DeChristopher, and he was quick to put the climate activist on his son’s radar. So the first time I met Beth and George, having gotten hired over the phone, I also met Alex. Like me, he drove out to Pamona to hear Tim speak at a Mountainfilmon Tour event at Pitzer College. (That day, I also got to meet a short guy named David Holbrooke, who I’ve had a man crush on ever since!)
In the end, Alex was so moved by Tim’s story that he not only allowed us to use five of his songs in the film, but he also came to Salt Lake City during Tim’s trial to join supporters outside the federal courthouse. While Alex was there, he even shot a music video for the single “Let’s Win,” and the track appropriately accompanies the end credits to Bidder 70.
So you can imagine what it was like to now find myself at Bonnaroo, of all places, listening to Alex introduce the film and telling the audience that I’d be doing a Q&A after the screening. I couldn’t help but feel that somehow it had all come together as it was supposed to.
And then the cherry on top of the whole thing: I got to watch the band’s incredible concert from the stage in front of an enormous crowd, which extended as far as the eye could see. And in the middle of the show, during an instrumental break, Alex came over to the side of the stage, and much to my surprise, gave me a high five.
(See more of Ryan's photos of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. And, if you're in Los Angles, don't miss the L.A. premiere of Bidder 70 on Friday, June 28.)