Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.
Recipient of the 2007 Independent Spirit Award for best first feature, for his debut film “Sweetland,” director Jim Bigham premieres his new intimate documentary “For Once In My Life” at this year’s SXSW.
“For Once In My Life” is the story of an inspiring group of people and their dream to make music. This documentary film follows the members of the Spirit of Goodwill Band while they prepare for the concert of a lifetime. As they navigate daily life, these twenty-eight musicians and singers, all with a wide range of severe mental and physical disabilities, display innate talent, humor and tenacity. “For Once In My Life” shatters preconceived notions of what it means to be disabled and reveals the humor, hope and the greatness within us all. [Synopsis provided by SXSW]
“For Once In My Life”
Director: Jim Bigham, Mark Moormann
Producer: Jim Bigham
Cinematography: Mark Moormann, Jim Bigham
Editor: Amy Foote
Music: The Spirit of Goodwill Band
Director Jim Bigham on returning to his roots while making “For Once In My Life”…
After graduating from film school in London in the 70’s, I thought of myself as a Jack-of-all-trades filmmaker. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work within film and TV, at different levels and formats—from being a production manager on “Saturday Night Live” in the 70s, to being production supervisor on big-budget films like “Great Expectations,” to being a producer on the Spirit Award-winning film “Sweet Land,” and then there’s about a 1000 commercials. While shooting “For Once In My Life,” I was reminded that bigger is not always better, as the most interesting footage we were getting was when the crew was small. Soon I found myself alone on the set with camera in hand, while recording sound. I was back to my roots. It was great.
Bigham on how he came to discover The Spirit of Goodwill Band…
Mark Moorman, told me about a band that was playing in the back room of the local Goodwill’s manufacturing plant. My wife and I went down to check them out. It was love at first sight; we knew we had to make some type of film about this amazing group. At our first production meeting, our mission statement was to make a film that would attract as many eyeballs as possible, and share the inspirational story. Making a profit was not a consideration. Now that the film is completed, the payoff exists in the lessons I’ve learned from the band members. It has been one of the great experiences in my life.
Bigham on the type of film he tried to make…
We knew from the beginning that the film might be considered as a depressing, pity-invoking film, about a subject on which most people would rather not dwell. Bottom line: we wanted to make a film that would entertain as it inspired. Audiences needed to see that this it isn’t about people who don’t have certain abilities, but about people who have the desire to succeed and are so very proud of their abilities. Glass half full rather than empty—all laced together with a killer sound track. We really wanted, and tried, to stay honest in our approach, and not make the characters into anything other than what they are. I wanted the band members to be able to convey their own stories without having to rely on the trapping of reality television. Many of the main characters have little or no verbal skills, so we relied heavily on a Cinéma Vérité approach to help reveal their backgrounds, struggles and their abilities. The next issue was to find an editorial pacing that would maintain people’s interest while we developed characters and moved the story forward. Amy Foote, our editor, did a great job in helping us finding that balance.
What Bigham hopes audiences will take away from the film…
The film tears down preconceived notions about what people with different abilities are capable of accomplishing. It is a reminder that success belongs to those who do something with what they have, rather than to those who have the most. The great Olympian Wilma Rudolph said “Greatness lies within each of us.” “For Once in My Life” is about finding that greatness.
Bigham on his inspirations in directing “For Once In My Life”…
The common-room scenes in Milos Foreman’s, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” were in the back of my head when I started hanging out in the band room. These are two entirely different groups of people, and the films have their obvious differences, but in both films, there is a focus on unique people, with very different realities and abilities, who excel at bridging their differences through various form of communication. Their interaction and methods of communication are fascinating to me. I really wanted to capture that on film. I learned so much being around the band members. They provided me a different view of life, cemented the true meaning of friends and family, and offered ways of interacting and communicating that are highly effective, but which were new and fascinating at the same time. To capture the stories, though, I turned to the work of my friends Chris Hedegus and D.A. Pennebaker’s “War Room.” Cinéma vérité at it’s finest.
And on any future projects…
A documentary profile on “What is a Lobbyist” and how they affect the average man—kind of an anthropological study in a Bambi vs. Godzilla setting. Who are they and how do they effect society?