Director Sam Jones' I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, a documentary about the making of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, has been accepted at the Los Angeles Film Festival and will make its world premiere there later this month. Theatrical opening dates have also been set up for New York (July 26th), and Chicago and Los Angeles (both August 2nd).
The black and white film has consumed a year and a half of Jones' life. The filmmaker and photographer approached Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy in late 2000 about possibly shooting the band as it went into the studio to record its fourth record. "I just started thinking about the idea of being around when seminal albums were being made," Jones said. "I wanted to find a band that fit the traditional real band, rather than something that was put together a corporate act or solo act or something. Wilco had the spirit of [Bob Dylan and the Band's] The Basement Tapes, a band that has it going in an honest sense. So I just sent them a letter and said, 'You're probably starting work on your fourth record. If the last two records are any indication, this could be the creative moment in your career, and I'd like to be around to film the whole process.' They made a few inquiries about me and I flew to Chicago to meet with Jeff. I walked away thinking that he can be a subject of a film without being boring and not be full of himself. He seemed like a guy who was pretty honest with himself."
Jones returned to Chicago in January 2001, and ended up witnessing the entirety of the tumultuous year that birthed the record. His first day in Chicago, Jones was told that drummer Ken Coomer had departed the band. "So in a way we missed that, but it meant that they had to start the record over," Jones says. "So in that sense I got there at a beginning."
And so the project continued; each time Jones thought the end was near, another wrinkle emerged, including the departure of multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett and the band's break with Reprise Records. "There was a show July 4th in Chicago that turned out to be Jay's last show, and it was huge," he says. "It was 40,000 people in Grant Park. We really kind of felt that would be the final concert stuff we would need. We got three cameras and really blew our wad on it. Three months later Jeff calls me and says Jay's out of the band. We had to rethink it, so we went back on the road with them and I'm glad we did. Seeing them have to rehearse from the ground up without Jay, and talking to Jeff about what that meant, and having them pull it off so well comes across in the film."
Among the footage Jones shot included interviews with Bennett following his departure, and a serendipitous segment of the band's manager receiving word from Reprise that Wilco had been dropped. But Jones says the more tantalizing, gossipy snippets aren't among his choice footage. "We've captured some acoustic performances that are my favorite things," he says. "You can get live footage anywhere. Jeff is a guy that plays the guitar and sings all the time, wherever he is. Whether it's a hotel room or his house or sitting around the rehearsal studio. We've managed to capture these acoustic performances that are really cool. They really feel like you're sitting in on his thought process."
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