TIFF 2019 to Open With Premiere of Music Doc ‘Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band’

Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard executive produced the documentary, envisioned as the definitive look inside the storied group's history.
Once Were Brothers
"Once Were Brothers"
Elliott Landy/LandyVision, Inc

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival will open a Canadian-made documentary. Daniel Roher’s inside look at the history of The Band, “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band,” will be the first documentary of its kind to open the lauded festival. The film will open the festival with a gala presentation on Thursday, September 5, at Roy Thomson Hal​l.

Despite not boasting the kind of starry on-screen talent that typically opens the festival, the documentary still comes from a slew of Hollywood heavy-hitters, including executive producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese, who previously directed the beloved Band concert doc “The Last Waltz” in 1978.

The film was inspired by Robertson’s 2016 memoir, “Testimony,” and it “tells the moving story of Robertson’s personal journey as he overcame adversity and found camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become his brothers in music, and who together made their mark on music history,” according to an official synopsis.

“Once Were Brothers” will feature rare archival footage, photography, iconic songs, and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, and Ronnie Hawkins.

Robertson first came to acclaim when he backed Bob Dylan during his notorious 1966 electric world tour, later collaborating with the singer and songwriter on his groundbreaking ​Basement Tapes​. He then joined The Band, best known for hits like “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,”​ ​and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

“This is one of Toronto’s great stories of a hometown hero,” said Bailey, Artistic Director & Co-Head of TIFF, in an official statement. “From his early years in this city, to the inspiration he took from life on the Six Nations reserve, to the impact he’s had on generations of music lovers, Robertson emerges in Roher’s film as a truly Canadian-made superstar.”

Vicente, Executive Director & Co-Head of TIFF, added, “This stirring documentary takes audiences on a musical journey and shows us just what it takes to build one of the most significant groups in rock history. Robertson is a Canadian music icon, and his moving story of persistence and passion is the perfect way to begin Festival 2019.”

Roher himself hails from Toronto, and as he explained in his own statement, “Robertson’s tale is a remarkable reminder of how vision, ambition, and hard work can empower one’s wildest dream. Robbie took a chance on me, and I will be forever grateful that he rolled the dice on a kid from Toronto to helm his story.”

“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band​” will stream on Crave in Canada later this year. TIFF will announce more Gala and Special Presentations on July 23.

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – 15, 2019.

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