Documentaries are definitely my thing. I love the education that takes place in the course of being entertained. With Demi Lovato’s doc (which also debuted during SXSW) taking its final bow on YouTube tonight and the Billie Eilish doc streaming on Apple TV Plus, I feel like I’m getting a cinematic B.A. in rock history.
Tom Petty’s Wildflower was the fastest selling album of his career, earning triple platinum certification just nine months after its release in 1994. It stands today the work that Petty has cited as the best record he ever made. In early 2020, a collection of 16mm film was discovered in the Tom Petty archive. Shot in B&W between 1993 and 1995 by Petty’s longtime filmography Martyn Atkins while Petty was recording the Wildflowers album. On the tour that followed, most of this material has never been seen before and shared through Petty’s words and gaze.
Directed by Mary Wharton, one the highlight films of the 2021 SXSW film festival, the Tom Petty doc Somewhere You Feel Free, takes the audience and Heartbreaker fans on a journey through the late artists’ career, use of French horns in his music and self reflection of a life well-lived. The most tender parts involve interviews with surviving band members, Rick Rubin, George Drakoulias (‘clubhouse’ manager and keeper of Heartbreaker history) and Alan ‘Bugs’ Weidel. It’s their words and sentiment in which we are able to witness not only Petty’s musical greatness, but grab a peek at the obvious toll his immeasurable loss and passing on has taken on each of one them and for fans left behind.
Somewhere You Feel Free is not just a cinematic documentation of the making of what was undeniably Tom Petty’s greatest work, but a heartfelt story of love and loss. Along with the box set (finally released in October 2020 in accordance with the artists’ wishes) it’s an immersive gift for those of us enamored with the incomparable music and the genius of Tom Petty. I think Petty himself, sums it us best, “…you don’t wanna stay in one circle all the time, you never grow and turn a corner with another place to go. I think I’m a soul man and am lucky because I knew what I wanted to do early in life. I feel very fortunate because it all worked out.” I’d say so brotha’ – spectacularly well at that.