Film + Interview : Xan Aranda Debuts with Andrew Bird Doc, Fever Year

If you went to an Andrew Bird show in 2009, you may or may not have been aware that he was plagued by a fever for much of his tour. You also might not have known that a documentary was in the works, following Andrew on his fever frenzy.

Making her full-length film directorial debut with “Fever Year,” Xan Aranda filmed what was Andrew Bird’s most rigorous touring schedule. “Fever Year” premiered at the prestigious New York Film Festival Lincoln Center on October 1, and has since screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.

Featuring live performances at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater with collaborators Martin Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Michael Lewis and Annie Clark of St. Vincent, the film follows the tour to its final show – a Chicago homecoming with Bird on crutches from a previous onstage injury.

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As is the case with any concert or music documentary, you have to wonder, is this film just for the rabid Andrew Bird fan? Would a casual fan, or even someone who’s never heard his music find a story here to sink their teeth into? I got a chance to ask Xan this and other questions.

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MOKB : I actually had the chance to see his Indianapolis show at the Murat.

Xan Aranda : I love that you were there. I was there too, checking out lighting, etc.

There’s a scene in Fever Year shot backstage at the Murat – the band is goofing around, warming up before going on stage. It’s hard to describe, but something very Muppet-y happens. I shot that on my Blackberry. Doesn’t look great, but content trumps production quality, in this case.

MOKB : Is this film for super Andrew Bird fans only?

Aranda : Longtime fans will enjoy many little tasty treats in the film, including a very powerful live performance of “Headsoak” from The Swimming Hour. The casual viewer may enjoy learning more about where that crazy spinning horn comes from. Some folks might just hang in there to see Andrew end up on crutches for his final show of the year.

Just as the fever year snuck up on Andrew – he was a frog in hot water, adapting to his surroundings – I think the film sneaks up on the viewer. At first you think you’re settling in for a comfortable music film, by the time “Headsoak” rolls around you realize you’ve absorbed a lot of circumstance, cumulative feelings, subtle impressions.

MOKB : Are there any aspects of the film or scenes that really appeal to the casual or non-fan?

Aranda : To the casual fan, I would say it’s a chance to spend time with Andrew, learn more about his process than who he is. This film is for everyone. I believe that a well-made documentary should be able to hold the attention of any viewer, regardless of content. I tried to do that with Fever Year. People who’d been previously ambivalent about Andrew came to love his music after seeing Fever Year.

People also tend to enjoy what I call the “Indie-Rock Hotel Porn Scene” with Annie Clark. It’s just a rehearsal, very benign and straightforward, but watching those two sit on a hotel bed and practice a brand new song he’d written that week is pretty beautiful.

MOKB : You’re friends and long-time collaborators with Andrew Bird – how did that affect your filmmaking process?

Aranda : Yep, this is our fourth project together. I previously produced the Imitosis music video (stop-motion animation with little insects, in the style of a 1960s science film) and Lull video (adapted from Chicagoan Lisa Barcy’s beautifully vicious 17-minute film “Mermaid.”) I also paired several other short films with his music for live show projections for the Armchair Apocrypha tours.

I believe the proximity of our friendship, which began in 2002, brought a huge level of trust to the process. Andrew is an incredibly private person, which I respect deeply, so it was a challenge for him to be comfortable with cameras being around for anything off-stage. I kept a very low-key crew presence whenever possible and worked hard to keep him simultaneously comfortable AND open.

MOKB : What was Andrew’s response to the film?

Aranda : He wanted the concert captured so that it could stand in for him while he’s taking a much-needed break and working on a new record. Fever Year is like a time-capsule of the past ten years of his work – he’s evolving, so I think it’s hard to see a snapshot of that former incarnation committed to film. Beyond that, I don’t make a practice of communicating on his behalf.

MOKB : After getting your full length directorial debut under your belt with a subject so near and dear to you, what do you work on next?

Aranda : I’m actively shooting my next film, which I actually put on hold to make Fever Year. It’s another deeply personal project, called Mormons Make Movies. It’s inspired by two films my mother starred in while a student at Brigham Young University in the 1960s, as part of the Mormon church’s Motion Pictures Studio. MMM is about creativity, nature, ancestry, and religion. I left the faith fifteen years ago, so there’s a personal aspect to the film as well. The project is ripping my guts out a little, in a way that I like. Thrilling, challenging, humbling.

View the trailer:

Official Trailer (2:45) from Andrew Bird: Fever Year on Vimeo.

About the Filmmaker:
Xan Aranda, aside from having previously directed music videos for Andrew Bird, writes narrative films and serves as a consulting producer for the US Department of Education for their documentary projects.

Upcoming Screenings:
COLORADO PREMIERE – Denver Film Festival
November 5-6, 2011, Denver Film Center/Colfax

EUROPEAN PREMIERE – Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival
November 10, 2011
Xan Aranda, Angelo Valencia to attend

MISSOURI PREMIERE – St. Louis International Film Festival
November 19, 2011 at 8:30 PM, Webster University
Xan Aranda to attend

WASHINGTON PREMIERE – Seattle (Location TBA)
February 17, 2012
Xan Aranda to attend

Details can be found at www.FeverYear.com/screenings.

Follow @MOKBFilm on twitter.

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    November 10, 2011 [ 12:28 am ]

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