Levon Helm Documentary Director Jacob Hatley Talks Living in The Band Leader’s Barn
Levon Helm in Jacob Hatley's 'Ain't in It For My Health'
For being such an integral part of rock history, Levon Helm -- the heart and drumbeat of the Band -- never really got enough credit, at least not as far as he was concerned. But now, with the opening of "Ain't in It for My Health," at least Helm will be able to tell his own story, albeit posthumously.
The fly-on-the-wall documentary, shot by director Jacob Hatley, situates the viewer shotgun alongside Helm in 2007, as the famously loquacious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee embarks on a five-week, five-nights-a-week tour for his Grammy-winning comeback album "Dirt Farmer." Soon Helm learns that his failing health won't be able to accommodate such a demanding schedule, even if his wallet needs it to.
Over the course of nearly two years of shooting, Hatley's subtle camera catches all the joy, pain, and nuances of one of rock's most interesting and talented figures. The camera never shies away -- from the doctor's office to the tour bus to the Midnight Ramble live sessions that Helm conducted in his barn in Woodstock, New York, the same barn where Hatley slept most of the time.
Like Helm's story itself, the story of how the film came to be is a tale of determination, inspiration, hardship, and even a little luck. While speaking with us over the phone last week, Hatley told us how he ended up living in Helm's barn, why the film took so long to shoot, and how Billy Bob Thornton helped Hatley get the goods.
You can see the exclusive "Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm" trailer below the captivating interview. The film premiers at Cinema Village in New York City on April 19, the one-year anniversary of Helm's death from throat cancer.
Adam Pockross: So you the movie opens in New York?
Jacob Hatley: It opens Friday. They're going to open it Upstate in Woodstock and they’re going to show it at the Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock and they’re going to show it I think at Levon's Barn. I think that’s a private screening actually. But the real opening, the official opening is the 19th in New York City at Cinema Village.
AP: How did you get to Woodstock in the first place?
JH: Well, I was making a few music videos at the time and just lucked out and got hired to direct this music video for the Dirt Farmer record. I came up there for what was supposed to be a weekend shoot, two days, and I don’t know, Levon and I just happen to hit it off. I just ended up hanging out there. I found an excuse not to go home immediately.
We had a camera, so I would just have it on and our DP would just have it on, and I brought the idea of doing it with him. Like, the last thing we need to do right now is a music video. There are things a lot more interesting that are going on here. So I tried to plant the bug in his ear. And he would just kind of nod his head and I couldn’t get a real indication if he would go for it or not. So I just went back to LA.
And like a month later or something, my phone rang and it was Levon. And he was like, “Hey Jacob, I’m going to the doctor next week, you want to come with me and film it?” And that was it. I mean, like, there was no discussion of let’s make a film, let's make a documentary. It was just, "do you want come to the doctor with me," and from that point on, it was on.