The Smalls: Forever is a Long Time
The 2016 Victoria Film Festival
Friday, Feb 12, 6pm
Sunday, Feb 14, 4pm
The Vic Theatre
808 Douglas Street
Filmmakers Trevor Smith and John Kerr have always thought about making a documentary about the Alberta-based punk rock/heavy metal band, The Smalls. When opportunity knocked, the timing could not be any better and the title The Smalls: Forever is a Long Time could not be any more appropriate. Corb Lund tipped Smith off to the fact they were reuniting for a special tour in 2014, and from there, the hurdle was in the financing instead of concern over the fan-base’s desire to see this group back in the saddle. The producers turned to crowd funding to more or less test the waters.
“The Kickstarter campaign was originally intended to be a marketing tool for early engagement with our audience and as a top-up to broadcast license fees and tax credits,” revealed Kerr, “But it took on a life of its own via Facebook and Twitter when fans of The Smalls got hold of it – and good thing too, since none of the Canadian broadcasters had much of an initial interest,” said Smith.
The production team opted to piggyback on the renewed energy, and involve the band’s legion of supporters in the actual financing of the film. They created a treatment, a creative brief, set the reward levels and went for it. Ultimately it proved a worthy gamble. They doubled their target number, and the funds were sufficient to carry the crew confidently through the whole tour.
The producers believed this band needed a proper video documentary made about them. The Smalls rose to prominence in the 90s. Not only did they musically explore the fusion of genres (country, jazz and rock) but they took the DIY ethic (punk) to a whole additional level. Their musical content had a style significantly rural and Albertan, which the people from Western Canada embraced. Other parts of this country didn’t quite get it. The filmmakers believe where they toured and the markets they braved, if not challenged, is what made them lovable. They have a loyal fan base that never left their side, even after they disbanded in 2001, to the mystification of many outside the West.
Through the process of travelling with them on the tour, the filmmakers realized the film isn’t just about reliving the band’s glory days. It looks at them 13 years later as grown men, reconciling that gap in punk/metal lifestyle.
“I recommend it as a good cure for even the most persistent mid-life crisis. It was a bit of a piss-cutter at times, but also pretty fun too. It was cool watching the guys work so hard, practice relentlessly and struggling a little.” ~ John Kerr
Once the John Deere cap is put back on Dug Bevens (guitarist) and the rest of the band — Corb Lund (bass), Mike Caldwell (drums) and Terry Johnson (drums) — gone through their material to refresh those muscle memories, to see them play is like taking a trip back through memory lane. On the road, the highlight reel of where they went, ranging from Ontario to British Columbia (with emphasis in their home province), more than a dozen cities were hit. Throughout this segment, introspection and reflection is offered about their work then and now.
“I think it was right around the Halloween show in Calgary, a couple of weeks into the tour, when it all came together and they truly felt close to being what they had once been,” recalled Kerr.
“Everyone was exhausted after driving down from Grande Prairie all night and day. But when the smalls hit the stage that night, they absolutely killed it. They knew it. We knew it. The crowd knew it. It was awesome.”
Kerr believes the Reunion Tour is a real gift to their fans and to themselves. It’s their way of saying thank you. Smith says it was a great reunion full of reconnection, memory, and musical celebration. Without the pressures of “being a band” and paying for their next record, this time they were able to simply enjoy the moment every night and share their accomplishments with their rabid fans. For some of them, Smith thought it was the first time they really had the perspective to appreciate the deep impact they had on so many lives. They saved young people, transformed them, and were the fabric of many alienated young punk’s development.
There were so many moments of pure joy the filmmakers captured from the people in the audience and the band. Through candid interviews with fans and industry insiders, insight into what The Smalls represented is explored as well as what made them decide to call it quits. Smith says this work provides a general understanding of the ten years of crazy circumstances that went on. Disparate personalities and the toll of making great conflicted art may have been part of the reason, but the decision on the split is ultimately left for viewers of this documentary to decide.
The film showcases a highlight reel of The Smalls’ work. They recorded every gig, often with multiple cameras, and they had hundreds of hours of footage to weed through. Just organizing the material was a monumental task. “Once we broke the story into Acts and Scenes it became easier to identify and create some stakes for the characters and to more clearly identify, build and follow their character arcs. It was like a roadmap of sorts that let us create a foundation on which things could grow and change organically,” revealed Smith.
One challenge the filmmakers faced was in how to balance music, humour, heartache, archival material and current experiences from the road. They wanted the film to be exploding with music, and not be a standard rock-doc or live experience.
“Trevor was adamant right from the beginning that we end the film with ‘There’s No Question.’ I knew it had to start with ‘My Dear Little Angle.’” sad Kerr, “From there, we chose songs to correspond with particular characters, themes and sequences that made up the story we wanted to tell. We were trying to give a wide range of songs and styles, but not force things. I think it worked out nicely. I love the sequences with ‘Easter,’ ‘Payload,’ ‘Dan Diddle A Na.’ ‘Domination,’ ‘On The Warpath’ and ‘My Saddle Horse Has Died.’ Mike singing ‘Alvarez’ brings me to tears every time I see it.”
Smith really wanted to humanize the four guys and explore their personalities by revealing who they were back then and who are they now.
“[During filming,] I think the guys learned a bit more about themselves and about each other, but most of all, they got to be rock stars again for a few months. Now how cool is that?” grinned Kerr.