When director Joel Goldberg set out to make a documentary about Canadian music icon Bruce Cockburn, his timing was both perfect and unfortunate.
It turned out that Cockburn — who has released over 30 albums in his 40-year career — was getting set to record his 2009 live album, Slice 'O Life, during a tour of northeastern U.S. and Quebec and seemed to be a willing subject.
The market for music documentaries, however, was another matter. "It's very hard to sell one-off documentaries these days," Goldberg says. "You really have to find a broadcaster to trigger the funding."
Enter Vision TV, a Christian broadcaster. The religious affiliation didn't throw the doc off course, though. Instead, Goldberg and Cockburn met again, this time at his home, to talk about spirituality.
Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage, the hour-long finished product, ran to much success, but when the opportunity came up to screen an extended version at the Whistler Film Festival, Goldberg jumped at the chance. Cockburn will also attend the screening and take part in a Q&A after.
Goldberg spoke to the Pique recently about going on the road with his musical hero, Cockburn's surprisingly humble demeanor and the challenges of marrying film and music.
Pique: What can you tell me about the film?
Joel Goldberg: We split it up into different parts of Bruce's psyche. He's been on the road more in his life than at home. For him, the road is home. Then we went into his songwriting, guitar-playing abilities — he's one of the greatest in the world — his activism and Christianity then the final chapter is a Canadian icon looking back on his career. He's an amazing person.
Pique: Did you get to know him well?
Goldberg: I got to know Bruce really well. He's a brilliant person. There's not a lot written about him. The biggest thing I discovered is he's sort of a regular guy. He's a regular Canadian. He has a great sense of humour. He loves to talk about politics and current issues. He's more curious about other people. He doesn't like to talk about himself too much. I think it's that curiosity that has made him into an activist and made his songwriting so amazing.
Pique: How did you balance showcasing the music and telling a story?
Goldberg: When you're a documentary filmmaker, one of the things you find is that you watch the movie over and over again. The rhythm comes out of that. The last two I did (were) a combination of concert and content... To me the songs that we picked blend into the content really well. Joan Jenkinson (from Vision TV) said, 'I want to see a full song off the top of the movie.' I was very reluctant to do it. We put "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" off the top and it works incredibly well.
Pique: Who is this film aimed at?
Goldberg: To me it's more for the casual fan. I hope they take away the fact that this is an underappreciated Canadian artist. If you look at the Mount Rushmore of singer-songwriters in Canada you've got Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. To me, Bruce Cockburn belongs up there.
Pique: What about young people who might know his work in passing?
Goldberg: Younger people growing up now are exposed to huge amounts of music. It's not just people their own age they're attracted to because the Internet and all the other accessories — the exposure to music is huge. If they're exposed to Bruce, he's going to get a whole new fanbase. He's 66 or 67 now. He just had a baby. We cover that in the documentary. He's a young soul. To me, he looks the same as he did 20 years ago.