Documentary: Biography / Music
Director: Alex Winter, USA, 2020, 129 min.
Rental fee $10 per household.
Trailer best viewed full screen or p-i-p mode.
ABOUT THE FILM
Thanks to exclusive access to a wealth of previously unseen material, we’re given an intimate look at the private life of the creative genius who articulated the madness of his times with extraordinary clarity and wit
– whose worldview, art and politics were far ahead of their time, profoundly relevant in our challenging world.
Director Alex Winter did not want to make a film just about Frank Zappa the rock god, whose epic guitar solos are readily available on YouTube. He was interested in Zappa as a culture warrior in the Lenny Bruce/Richard Pryor tradition—the hero of free expression who was fêted in the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution.
Initially, Winter told Zappa’s widow Gail, the film’s main focus would be on the avant-garde composer, whose little-known orchestral music is sometimes ranked among works by Charles Ives, Edgard Varèse, and other seminal twentieth-century artists. That focus expanded when Gail told Winter about the vault in the basement of the Zappa’s Laurel Canyon home, containing his unreleased music, movies, incomplete projects, unseen interviews and unheard concert recordings. The extensive collection was overwhelming, requiring preservation before filming could begin.
After raising $1.2 million for preservation on KickStarter, Winter was then able to portray the man who began as the Dionysian leader of a Dada-esque band, the Mothers of Invention, and became a First Amendment advocate with a suit and tie and a haircut, testifying in Congress against Tipper Gore’s call for warning labels on albums and arguing with John Lofton on CNN’s “Crossfire.”
It seemed striking to me and producer Glen Zipper that there had yet to be a definitive, all-access documentary on the life and times of Frank Zappa. We set out to make that film, to tell a story that is not a music doc, or a conventional biopic, but the dramatic saga of a great American artist and thinker; a film that would set out to convey the scope of Zappa’s prodigious and varied creative output, and the breadth of his extraordinary personal and political life. First and foremost, I wanted to make a very human, universal cinematic experience about an extraordinary individual.
What helped make this vision possible was Gail Zappa granting us exclusive access to Zappa’s vault; a vast collection of his unreleased music, movies, incomplete projects, unseen interviews and unheard concert recordings. With this wealth of material, and the minimal addition of present-day interviews with Frank’s closest friends and musical collaborators, we built a narrative that is both intimate and epic in scope.
But before we could set about making the film, we needed to preserve a great deal of material from the vault that was deteriorating and in great danger of being lost forever. So we created a crowdfunding campaign, and were lucky to break funding records for a documentary related project. And thus began an exhaustive, two year mission to preserve and archive the vault materials. When this was completed, we set about making the film.
Frank Zappa was not only a creative genius, but also a great and eloquent thinker who articulated the madness of his times with extraordinary clarity and wit. A legitimate maverick who lived and worked amongst other extraordinary people in historic times. Ultimately, ZAPPA is not a retro trip into the past, but a thoroughly modern exploration of a man whose worldview, art and politics were far ahead of their time, and profoundly relevant in our challenging times.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Alex Winter entered show business as a child actor with co-starring roles on Broadway in The King & I and Peter Pan and came to prominence in movies such as Warner Bros’ hit The Lost Boys and the wildly popular Bill & Ted franchise. As a filmmaker, Winter’s narrative features include the cult classic Freaked, for 20th Century Fox and Fever, for Lionsgate, an official selection in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes.
Winter founded Trouper Productions, a company that supports his films. In 2019, Winter released two new documentary feature films; The Panama Papers, about the biggest global corruption scandal in history and the journalists who worked in secret and at great risk to break the story. A multiple award-winner, The Panama Papers is executive produced by Laura Poitras, opened to a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is out now on Hulu, Amazon Prime and Epix in the US. Trust Machine: The Story Of Blockchain, about the rise of bitcoin and the blockchain was released last Fall and is now available on Amazon Prime
Previous documentary work includes Deep Web, about the online black market Silk Road, and the trial of its creator Ross Ulbricht. The film premiered on the Epix network, opening as the #1 documentary on iTunes and earning a Cinema Eye nomination among several award wins. Deep Web is now available for streaming and VOD. Downloaded is a VH1 RockDoc about Napster and the digital revolution. The film premiered at SXSW, garnering worldwide critical acclaim at theatrical and festival screenings, and is available for digital download from all major outlets, free streaming on AOL in the US.
Winter’s Showbiz Kids documentary feature for HBO, produced by frequent collaborator Glen Zipper and Bill Simmons’ Ringer Films, premiered July 14th on the network and is now available through HBO GO, HBO NOW, and on HBO via HBO Max and other partners’ platforms. The highly anticipated third installment in the Bill & Ted franchise, Bill & Ted Face The Music is now available in theaters and on demand in the U.S. and is continuing to roll out internationally this Fall.
Zappa, the first all-access documentary on the life and times of Frank Zappa was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW film festival. The Kickstarter campaign for this project was the highest funded documentary in crowdfunding history. Zappa was acquired by Magnolia Pictures in August and for release in late 2020.