Filmmaker Chris Metzler Brings Fishbone Back to S.F. With Everyday Sunshine
Chris Metzler fits in perfectly in the eclectic documentary circles of his adopted S.F. home, even if he hasn't shed his L.A. roots. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, the high-energy follow-up to Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (co-directed with Jeff Springer), tracks the stormy history and vibrant legacy of the African-American punk-fusion pioneers who met in high school 25 years ago. Everyday Sunshine rode the festival circuit from early 2010 (including stops at S.F. Docfest and the Mill Valley Film Festival) through the summer of 2011 before launching its theatrical run in the fall.
The doc returns today (Friday, Jan. 6) for a week at the Roxie Theater, with band members Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher performing before the first-night screenings and the filmmakers on hand Friday and Saturdsay. We caught up with Metzler, who essentially has toured nonstop since early October.
Your fall itinerary included cities in New York and Washington state as well as St. Louis, Wichita, and Cleveland. How many towns did you visit?
By the time we finish up our theatrical run in February, Everyday Sunshine will play 75 cities. Between co-director Lev Anderson, the band, and myself, we'll probably hit 90 percent of them.
Self-distribution could be considered a plague or a pleasure. Do your S.F. stopovers double as a drying-out period?
I can hang with the best of them without having to overindulge. The excitement of meeting new people is its own high. The hardest part when you get back from the road is you just want to take a nap. You don't feel it when you're on the road; you feel it right when you get back. But I have to lay the groundwork for the next cities that are coming up. Of course, people are very generous on the road.
Everybody wants to buy the filmmaker a drink after the Q&A?
Yes. And with a band like Fishbone, there's a high proportion of weed smokers out there, too.
It sounds a little like what it's like to tour as a musician.
I couldn't do this as part of a band. Because a documentary is something that happens every couple of years, it makes it more fun and enjoyable. You kind of capture the energy it took you to make the film, and then go out and share it with the world.
I imagine every audience feeds off the band's energy in the film -- whether the band is on or off stage.
Damn it, you can't make it out to be a music documentary! (laughs) Yes, it happens to be about a band and about the creative process of making music. Lev and myself think most music docs suck. It's a really hard documentary to get right. You have a devoted fan base that knows everything, but as a filmmaker you want to tell a universal story that anyone can identify with. Most music docs are corrupted from the beginning because they're often funded by the label of the band. This is an independent film through and through: We were very lucky that the band signed on early and trusted us.
How do you see the film, if it's not a music doc?
Here's this band that was born out of serendipity, due to the busing and desegregation efforts in L.A. in the 1970s. You have these young black kids from South Central falling in love with punk rock and carving out their own path. In the end, it's a story of outsiders. As a filmmaker, I could relate to someone trying to do something different, and the characters' struggles.
Have you succeeded in attracting audiences who aren't Fishbone devotees?
Most music docs draw just the fans. What we found was 50-50 -- fans of the band, and new people who'd never heard of the band and maybe read a review and said, "Damn, that sounds interesting." But music is such a personal experience. You wonder, "If I don't like the music, is there anything for me in that story? Will it just be a lot of concert footage?"
Has the film played differently to audiences than you anticipated in the editing room?
The thing that most surprised us was the emotional impact these guys' stories and struggle has. We always thought the film was funny, and there's nothing like a crowd of people laughing their asses off. We always meant to tell a fun story with serious issues, and it's fun to see that resonate. Over the course of making the film, we came to see this was a story of friendship and family. To see audiences recognize that and take it a few steps further is interesting. People pick up on the subtleties a lot more than you would ever expect. You put all these "Easter eggs" in there for yourself, and when people see them, that's pretty cool.
What effect has Everyday Sunshine had on Fishbone?
They're playing to more packed houses. A lot of people didn't know Fishbone was still around, and through the film they've rediscovered the band and go and check them out live. Dirty Walt has rejoined the band since the film came out, and that's the result of them collaborating in the studio on the score. They're now in the studio working on their next album. Also, anytime you look back at the past it gives you a sense of perspective. There's something special about being recognized for being themselves. Here's a band that's never broken up or stopped touring. Fishbone stays alive in spirit by playing live. Fishbone has this punk-rock ethos: What happens on onstage isn't more important than what's going on in the audience. They're two pieces working together. It needs that to survive.
What's Fishbone's biggest contribution, in your estimation?
Fishbone gave so many people permission to be themselves. They went to a concert, and they felt they could just be themselves. Fishbone was this larger community. It evolved to be about more than the band and the music, and rather a sense of identity. The kind of multicultural world we live in a little bit more now, it didn't exist. When you went to a Fishbone concert, you saw everybody there: frat boys, black punk rockers, maybe the one Asian kid at school that didn't fit in anywhere. There isn't a Fishbone uniform. The Fishbone uniform is basically individuality.
What's different for the band, or you, about the Roxie gig?
In 1983 or '84, San Francisco was the first town Fishbone toured to outside of their Southern California base. S.F. has been the band's home away from home. There's something about the eclectic nature and diversity that always welcomes and celebrates them. In S.F., Fishbone isn't a cult band.
Everyday Sunshine screens Jan. 6-12 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $6.50-$10.