Last Thursday, a stone’s throw from the former headquarters of Larry Flynt’s Hustler empire, a trove of thirsty teenage influencers, A-listers such as Dustin Hoffman and rock stars including Muse’s Matt Bellamy were queueing up to walk the red carpet at a movie premiere.
This wasn’t, however, the latest Marvel launch or an Oscar-bait opening. It was the re-release of a 13-year-old music documentary about a previously relatively unknown heavy metal band from Canada.
Anvil!: The Story of Anvil, a tale of hope and heavy metal, has been having quite the encore.
The film, directed by Sacha Gervasi, has been re-released by Utopia for a new generation of kids that seem willing to get in the pit for its heartwarming message: never give up.
‘Railway Children,’ Anvil, Abigail Disney & ‘The Greatest Beer Run Ever’ – Specialty Preview
“It’s chaotic magic,” Gervasi tells Deadline the morning after the LA premiere that included a live performance from the band.
The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, tells the story of Canadian metallers Anvil, who influenced the likes of Metallica and Guns N Roses but never quite got their dues.
However, despite slogging away with day jobs in catering and construction, founders Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner never quit. Even after setback after setback, as documented in the film, the group’s often comical willingness to keep going in the face of disappointment eventually led to success.
After the film was released, Anvil went on tour with AC/DC and appeared on The Tonight Show. “To this day, 15 years after we started making the film, the band has never had to do another day job ever again,” says Gervasi. “It’s changed all of our lives.”
It was not, however, as easy as it sounds.
The film may have shepherded through a golden age of music documentaries, opening the door for docs such as Oscar-winner Searching for Sugar Man, but the making of the movie shares parallels with Anvil’s career.
Gervasi had known the band well in the 1980s, first as a teenage fan, then later as a roadie for them, affectionately dubbed ‘Teabag’.
But after breaking through in Hollywood – he wrote the Tom Hanks-fronted, Steven Spielberg-directed film The Terminal – he invited his old tour buddies to LA and persuaded them to let him document their latest chapter.
Gervasi self-financed the film “about an unknown band and their struggles to make it in their 50s”. After he didn’t receive any substantial offers at Sundance, and a call from his accountant suggesting that he file for bankruptcy, he took out a second mortgage on his house to fund a theatrical release of the film.
“As you see in the movie, there was this feeling that everyone was on the edge of calamity at every single moment. I knew if the movie didn’t work, it was going to be calamitous for me so there was this tension about it. We were in the trenches together. And thank God, this was not a disaster. I just knew at that point, I had to do it. I couldn’t not do it. It’s one of those movies like that. That’s why you feel that that energy. That’s why I think it still has life now, because it has some sort of deep emotion to it, because we were all risking everything.”
Over the years, Gervasi, who went on to direct Hitchcock and My Dinner with Hervé has considered some form of follow-up with the band.
He says one approach was to take an approach similar to Up, the series of documentaries from Paul Almond and Michael Apted, that looks at a family every seven years.
In 2014, there was also talk of sequel called Anvil 2: The Quest for World Peace, with the band organizing a concert for the Israelis and the Palestinians to bring them all together. “We actually set out to do it. But then, you know, it didn’t happen. It just got rather serious. The Middle East conflict is quite a lot for Anvil.”
There’s also more footage of the band including a “very intense trip” when Kudlow took Reiner to Auschwitz. “The second film would be about Judaism and identity,” he says. “We do have some stuff but who knows whether it’ll ever see the light of day, but I felt like I didn’t really have anything to add after this film. But we’ll see what evolves over time.”
The success of Anvil!: The Story of Anvil also made it hard for Gervasi to look at other music documentary projects. “I’ve been offered some pretty big things. The only music documentary I would make would be on The Clash, they’re one of my favorite bands,” he adds.
He says that Anvil succeeded because the mainstream public had no idea who the band was. He tells a couple of amusing stories to illustrate the point. Firstly, at a film festival in Ireland, two young fans approached Reiner and said that because he shared a name (albeit with a slightly different spelling) with the director of This Is Spinal Tap, it wasn’t a real documentary. Reiner pulled out his passport to prove it was his real name and they said, “You Hollywood people can get any props you need”.
Similarly, Chris Soos, who was DP on the documentary, thought Gervasi was pulling the wool over his eyes during filming. “He said, ‘I need to know, are they actors?’ He didn’t even believe what he was shooting. He thought I was playing some kind of Michel Gondry-like trick on him. But that’s why I made the movie because when you were with them, it was like being in a movie.”
But why is the film being re-released, particularly in such a wide way on over 200 screens, 13 years after it first came out?
Gervasi credits his teenage godson Rio, son of Rebecca Yeldham, who produced the film, after he brought a group of friends over to his house to screen the film at the tail-end of the pandemic.
“We were all astonished to see that 17-year old kids were responding in such a visceral way to the film. [Rio] said ‘We’ve just come out of Covid, we’ve been locked down for a couple of years and we’ve not been able to socialize,” he says. “When I was 15/16, I was on the road with Anvil and those years are so critical. They had been denied that so they responded to the hopeful, inspirational aspect of the film. On another level, it’s a very sad film. But if you hang if there long enough, maybe something magic can happen.”
Robert Schwartzman, a member of the Coppola family, lead singer of rock band Rooney and founder of distributor Utopia, was one of those that attended these screenings with the kids.
“Robert said that he thinks there’s a new audience for this. The message was this is not a reheated old meal. This is a fresh new dish,” he adds. “He said we should put this out as if it’s a totally new movie and market it to these young people.”
With potentially more screenings with a bonus live performance, Gervasi is getting the band back together for a few more encores.
The post With ‘Anvil!: The Story Of Anvil’ Re-Release, Band & Director Sacha Gervasi Enjoy Encore appeared first on Deadline.