Canada 2019

In a sense Robbie Robertson only has one story, but it’s a great one: how four Canadian rockers and an Arkansas drummer set out together in the early 1960s and wound up in the eye of that decade’s cultural hurricane. The story of The Band was the basis of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, and has been revisited by countless rock chroniclers since.

But the years since The Last Waltz have given it a sad coda, with several of Robertson’s bandmates falling to addictions and early deaths, and a bitter disagreement between Robbie and his southern confederate Levon Helm, who accused him of using The Band to further his own ambitions.

It’s hard not to see Once Were Brothers as Robertson’s response to Ain’t in It For My Health (NZIFF11), the unvarnished 2010 documentary that told the tale from Helm’s point of view. Robertson’s version is more magnanimous, yet one can’t help feeling he is, once again, furthering an agenda. And yet the whole thing is brought to life with a wealth of rare and unseen images, plus revealing interviews including the uproarious Ronnie Hawkins and the rarely seen Dominique Robertson, Robbie’s wife. There is also plenty of The Band’s music which, of course, sounds as great as ever. — Nick Bollinger

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Last updated: 26 June 2020