“How many people are willing to actually die for their art? I don’t know. I’m sure many are willing to take a risk and push themselves as far as they see fit, depending how dedicated and smart they are. Was Pat smart in the decision he made? Well, he did still have partial function of his kidney at the time, which minimized the dialysis some, although that could have changed at any point.”
Filmmaker Jim Granato’s credits include various roles in The Real Dirt on Farmer John, Audience of One, Revolution Summer, and Stephanie’s Image. His short films, including Vivid Dreams, Fire and Effect, and Urban Renewal, have screened to acclaim around the world. Now he’s bringing his first feature-length film, a documentary called DTour, to the San Francisco International Film Festival.
What follows is a discussion of the film, as well as its implications for a society in which art seems to be both celebrated and denigrated to an astonishing degree. – Jonathan Nathan
The Rumpus: I guess first, just start off with a little explanation of what your film is and what it’s about.
Jim Granato: DTour is a feature length documentary about Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon, who strives to be where he is—professionally making music with a band that is slowly climbing the ladder to success. As his band starts to take off and his dreams approach fulfillment, his lone kidney starts to fail. Pat decides to take his necessary dialysis treatment with him on the road, as well as his quest to find a potential living donor.
Rumpus: It’s an interesting concept, and as far as I know, a unique premise and narrative, for a film. What about this story made you feel like it had to be documented?
Granato: Originally Pat called me up and asked if I’d be interested in filming something about his return to dialysis and the road to a kidney transplant. This was going to be his second transplant and he wanted to show others doing dialysis that this peritoneal dialysis, which kept him mobilized, was out there. Apparently it wasn’t well known that peritoneal dialysis was an option and someone like Pat, who wants to keep moving and performing and doing what he loves, can continue to make the most of his life. The other type of dialysis that is more commonly known is hemodialysis which restricts patients to a machine several times a week in a clinic or hospital. Of course this all depends on the patient and their individual case.
After we started filming some stuff it quickly became apparent that Pat was about to embark on several tours in a row, a notorious schedule that many young bands go through. Pat didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities and was determined to take some risks. Knowing Pat all these years I knew music meant more to him than his health, but this time he chose to keep them both in delicate balance and we knew this was a unique story to capture.
Rumpus: Who do you think the film appeals to?
Granato: Well, on the surface I suppose fans of Rogue Wave and the other bands that are featured in the film will bring in the indie rock fans. And then you have this story of a likable guy who is putting his life on the line with the odds stacked against him in so many ways—on a six-year waiting list for a kidney, no real health insurance. But just underneath all that is this story about one person’s perseverance, one person fighting for what he believes despite the obstacles before him. It’s a set-up that many people can respond to.
Rumpus: How long have you known Rogue Wave?
Granato: I’ve known Pat for more than ten years, and the rest of Rogue Wave for most of the band’s existence, although I can’t say I’ve been close with any of the other band members until fairly recently.
Rumpus: Do you feel like Pat made the right choice by potentially sacrificing his health, and—as far as he knew—possibly even sacrificing his life eventually, to take advantage of a creative opportunity?
Granato: I was very concerned about Pat and thought what he did was dangerous. His bandmates were concerned as well. But again, Pat had to do this. He couldn’t just go home and deal with his health without playing music unless it was absolutely necessary. Luckily for him his doctors approved and he had the backing of his bandmates to support him 100% with his needs along the way. Once everybody around him was on board, I felt Pat was much better off. But it was still dangerous.
Rumpus: The film is about life interfering with creative projects. It’s probably fair to say that life interferes with just about every creative project at some point and to some degree. Obviously, sometimes creative work has to take precedence over life, but when does the situation cross the line and become one in which art is not important enough?
Granato: That’s tough to answer, because for so many their art is their life. How many people are willing to actually die for their art? I don’t know. I don’t think Pat was willing to die for his music. I’m sure many are willing to take a risk and push themselves as far as they see fit, depending how dedicated and smart they are. Was Pat smart in the decision he made? Well, he did still have partial function of his kidney at the time, which minimized the dialysis some, although that could have changed at any point. His health otherwise was very good as long as he kept up his dialysis, and once he secured the support of others around him, Pat had it pretty good, all things considered. Of course, touring and playing the drums every night is physically demanding, so that can take a toll. How close does this come to that line between art and life? I don’t think Pat thought about the line much and just concentrated on balancing his health and his passion very delicately.
Rumpus: Aspiring creators often idealize the artistic life. They imagine the hardship and suffering that goes with it to be of the romantic variety, the kind you can “use” in your work: romantic troubles, shitty jobs, depression. But your film spotlights a more mundane and humiliating—and, in a way, more painful and difficult—kind of suffering. What are the “real” hardships that go along with the creative life?
Granato: I think the answer is: whatever threatens to take your art or livelihood away from you. In Pat’s case, it’s his health. That will always be there, looming over him no matter what he chooses for the rest of his life. I suppose that goes for all of us, but Pat has to be on it seven days a week. He’s got to deal with a ton of medication and side effects that don’t go away. Pat has also got tremendous support from his family, his friends, and a whole music community, once word got around. Of course, not everyone has that luxury, and the real hardship would be to go through something like this alone. Luckily for Pat he wasn’t alone.
Rumpus: You’ve made a film out of presenting the clash of art and life issues. The film suggests that, by and large, art is too important to let life get in the way. Do you think this places art and creativity on a pedestal?
Granato: I don’t think my film suggests art is too important to let life get in the way. Pat’s music is his life. He is living life, despite what is coming at him. And he is also using the opportunity through his unique lifestyle to raise awareness about the important issue of organ donation rather than what it takes to be an artist.
Rumpus: In almost every sector of the Western populace, creative work of a certain sort is valued very highly. Do you think that our culture and society place art on a certain elevated plane, making it impenetrable to criticism?
Granato: Personally, I don’t see artists any different than I see teachers or cops. It’s just what some people do, and if you’re lucky you can make a living from it. So, I don’t think art is on an elevated plane. I think that society forgets about the artists who are out there doing what they love to do in regards to offering affordable health insurance or a reasonable wage.
Rumpus: Do you think there is a danger presented by a society that places art at such a level?
Granato: I’m sure there are people that drown themselves in their own art and forget about those other things and somehow continue to function. But I think that our society makes it difficult for artists to survive, yes. Because of what we all need as individuals to function in this society: food, home, job, whatever.
Rumpus: How does Pat’s struggle, as the film progresses, reflect upon the lives of the people around him and the people that care about him? What does the film say about the sacrifices made by those who support creators and their creative work?
Granato: Pat’s network of friends and family is a tight one. Again, without that, Pat’s course would’ve been different. People were starting to get more concerned as more time had passed and his wait for a kidney was lengthening. There was a line of folks who were ready to give a kidney to Pat, which was comforting, but all the testing took a lot of time and for one reason or another potential donors were knocked off the list. People stepped up because they wanted to help out their friend in need. In some cases these folks weren’t that close with Pat. I found this fascinating—that people were willing to go through such an elaborate change in their own life just to help out another person. I don’t think it had anything to do with being impressed that he’s an artist or some level of being starstruck. They just thought it was the right thing to do.
Rumpus: What does DTour contribute to film as a medium? What are the experiments and innovations that you feel you’ve brought to film and to documentaries?
Granato: Well, I don’t know of any other documentaries that combine these two elements of rock concert and medical story. In fact when people used to ask me what I was working on, I kept trying out different pitches with this project, and most people were just kind of hanging there, not really sure what to say. It is unique and early on the possibility of making it all work excited me. But again, it’s the characters that keep it all together. Pat is a likable guy despite what you think of Rogue Wave or rock music in general. And people want to know what happens to him and those around him. I hope people will take this away from watching DTour and tell other folks who might be interested in his story but not necessarily just indie rock music fans. Having said that, I think the music in the film is pretty accessible across the board and perhaps new fans will emerge.
As far as experiments are concerned, there is footage from Pat’s benefit concert in the film, and I think the process of choosing which songs are performed by different bands throughout the piece was interesting. There’s a great mixture of more intimate moments and livelier rocking moments that resonate with several scenes. I really wanted each individual performance to have some closer association either to the scene it was either inter-cut with, or to the scene that came just before or after it. I think this mostly works given the half a dozen or so times we cut to a live performance in the film. Right down to the lyrics being sung and/or perhaps the sound of the song itself. There’s a real connection between the music and what’s going on in the reality of the story.
Rumpus: A struggle that documentarians often face is the balancing act between editing footage to tell a teleological storyline, and showing an honest portrayal of the subject. How did you deal with that line in making this film?
Granato: Pat is more than just a subject. Pat is my good friend, and others that are featured in DTour are friends or people who became friends. This is a project that has always been close to my heart and from the beginning my editor and I were determined to get it right. Its often tempting to change things around to make your film more dramatic or to make things work because the order that it actually happened in didn’t work in the editing. I can honestly say that there was very little of that and what you see in DTour is extremely faithful to the actual events. Pat and I have a relationship that is close and because of that I believe I had some real access with him over the two years that this story takes place. There was a lot of trust there and because of that trust in each other we were successful in working with each other. There were certainly things that happened in DTour that none of us saw coming and the responsibility of handling certain material became very heavy. I owed it to certain people to get it right and I wasn’t going to let them down. If changing something radically meant a bigger audience later on, then I couldn’t do it. I want as many people as possible to see my film but the film has to achieve the truth to be successful.
DTour will screen at the San Fransico Film Festival on May 1 (9:00 pm), May 4 (3:15 pm), and May 7 (5:15 pm). Granato will also screen the film on May 22 at 6:00 pm for the San Joaquin International Film Festival.