Director Xan Aranda on Andrew Bird’s Fever Year documentary
For a man with such an extensive music career and fan reach, Andrew Bird has done an excellent job of remaining a mysterious enigma to much of the world. He’s a fascinating artist, though the man behind the art has, to this point, been somewhat elusive.
Enter director Xan Aranda, an independent filmmaker and a long-time friend of Andrew Bird’s. Aranda was approached by Bird himself, in the interest of preserving the memory of his most rigorous year of touring, culminating in a two-night run at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater in March 2009. It was the end of a 165-date tour, and it was a year in which Bird was reportedly plagued by an almost constant fever. Aranda called the film Fever Year, and it’s screening tonight at at the Trylon Microcinema as part of Sound Unseen’s monthly film series.
Fever Year explores the music of Andrew Bird from the perspective of a scientist with the soul of a poet. Aranda’s treatment of Bird as an artist, and her capturing of his true self in the film, has been noted through a handful of prestigious awards: Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature at the Omaha Film Festival (2012), Best Documentary Feature at the SENE Film, Music, & Arts Festival (2012), and Best Popular Culture Documentary at the Documentary Edge Festival (2012), among others.
For Twin Cities-based fans of Andrew Bird (and fans of extraordinary film), tonight marks the last opportunity to see the film Andrew Bird: Fever Year on the silver screen — or, rather, to see it at all. Per Bird’s preference, Fever Year will not be released on DVD or in theaters, so the showing tonight is truly the last chance to see it.
Gimme Noise caught up with director Xan Aranda to discuss the project and what it was like behind the scenes.
GN: I know you’ve worked with Andrew Bird in the past, but can you explain a little bit about selecting Andrew Bird as the subject matter for your directorial debut?
XA: It’s actually the opposite — it’s a commission. He asked me to make the film and I said no. [Laughs] We had already done live-show projections and two music videos together. [Andrew Bird] had been looking at recording these two shows as the Pabst Theater, and then he asked me, and I said no at first…. Then I remember riding my bike home from his house and I was like, “Oh, shit,” because I had an opinion and an idea of how it should be made, so when I got home I sent him a note and was like, “Okay, let’s talk about it.”
GN: Tell me about the style of the film. You’ve said that it’s not a “rockumentary” or anything like that — how do you define it? What was your approach?
XA: I knew that I wanted to shoot it in pungent color; his music is so rich that I wanted lots of color, and I like to use that in my work in general. I said I didn’t want to do [the film] if it was a concert capture–I feel like those things are just kind of a waste, because I feel like viewers don’t really get beyond the setlist, and then they view it once and it goes on the shelf. I wanted to create something that was more toothsome than even like an E! Hollywood True Story, and we kind of realized that there were a few things going on in Andrew’s life…. He had fevers, and when we talked about it, I asked him, “Are you a frog in hot water?” And he said “No. I’m more like a turtle or a bear.” Here’s somebody who, for what he does, is pretty mysterious even for viewers, and I thought I needed to make a film that was kind of an introduction but also something that encompassed fifteen years of music. It’s a lot of things, but it’s also about the creative process.
GN: The film covers some of the health concerns that Bird has as he is in the midst of this grueling tour–particularly the namesake of the film, Bird’s ongoing fever. Were you concerned, personally, at any point?
XA: No. I’ve known Andrew for ten years, I kind of know how he rolls. Unless he’s like an infant falling into the river… it’s that, “I’m not here to end the war, I’m here to document the war…” And there are just certain things, I wanted to let him be and I didn’t want to spook him. Besides, he’s a grown adult with a loving family, and is capable of taking care of himself.
GN: Did making this film change your perception of Andrew Bird as an artist?
XA: One of the reasons I wanted to make this film was because I’d known him for so long, and when you have that kind of knowledge of a subject, you kind of want to dig in there, but I wanted to make a film that was kind of a time capsule. I knew his life was about to change a lot, but it did put me in a position where I could articulate what I thought of him and put him in a new light… it’s definitely hard to guide a friend of yours through the experience of having a film made about them. It’s a very arresting process, like, “Oh, shit, there’s this movie about me,” and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing…” [Laughs]
Were there any pieces of the film that you had to cut that you wish you could have fit in?
XA: We have 36 viable songs that we condensed into this film from two different shows, so there are two performances that were so wonderful. He enjoyed those performances, and for me I kept trying to fit them in the film and the film kept spitting them out–it’s that beautiful moment where the film starts to tell you what it wants.
GN: For Andrew Bird fans that haven’t seen the film, what do you think will be the most surprising or enlightening thing?
XA: We just released as a music video for Andrew the rehearsal-to-stage performance of “Lusetania” that he did with Annie Clark [St. Vincent]. That was the first time they performed together, and Andrew taught her that song in that moment… It’s also very rare to spend 80 min with Andrew, so it’s just a nice chance to hang out.