For its opening night premiere, the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival chose to highlight a rock documentary about a legendary band, followed by an opening night party. Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band follows the legendary band itself, as well as Robertson’s rise from his early life in southern Ontario and on a Six Nations reserve, to roots-rock hero in The Band. The inspiration for the film was Robertson’s best-selling memoir, Testimony.
Directed by Canadian documentarian Daniel Roher, the film focuses on Robertson and the combination of talent, work, and happy accidents that ultimately led to fame with The Band, as well as the conflicts that disrupted their success. The film was well attended by eager or nostalgic music fans, who were rewarded by obscure musical clips, as well as rare footage of The Band’s collaborations with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan, replicating the era of joyful creativity Robertson’s band experienced.
Once Were Brothers is co-produced by Martin Scorsese, who directed The Last Waltz, a documentary on The Band’s 1976 farewell concert, considered one of the greatest concert films ever made. As a very special supplement to the premiere, TIFF’s opening night included a free late-night screening of The Last Waltz, which was introduced from the stage by Scorsese and Robbie Robertson.