“Tom Rush: No Regrets” is a documentary chronicling the life, times, and career of iconic folk musician Tom Rush. The film won the “Best New Hampshire Documentary” award at the 2013 New Hampshire Film Festival last fall, and will make its Boston premiere Saturday evening, June 28, at 8 p.m., at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA. There will be a Q&A after the screening with Mr. Rush and filmmakers Rob Stegman and Todd Kwait.
Originally from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Rush attended Harvard University in the early 1960s. While there, he spent some of his time playing records on the college radio station, and also began singing folk songs locally at Club 47 (now Club Passim) and the Unicorn. He recorded one of the earliest albums of the Cambridge Folk Music Scene era, which was initially sold out of the trunk of a car. His most famous, and covered, composition is “No Regrets,” the title song from his 1968 Elektra concept LP. He is credited with giving a national audience to three unknown singer-songwriters - Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Jackson Browne - by including their compositions on the album. While the film is mostly narrated by Rush in his own humorous and self-deprecating style, it also includes interviews with Taylor, Boston Disc Jockey Dick Summer, and recording industry pioneer Jac Holzman.
"In putting my own act together and presenting myself, Tom was definitely the model for it," Taylor said in the film. "He was so seminal, so central to that folk music movement.” Jac Holzman, founder and CEO of Elektra Records, recalled Rush's time at the label: "Tom was best of class and would lead and inspire ultimately many other artists on the label.”
“Tom Rush: No Regrets” was directed by Rob Stegman and Todd Kwait, the same team who worked on “For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival,” which featured Tom Rush, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Carolyn Hester, Jim Kweskin, and Taj Mahal, among others. The film also included exclusive live audio by Bob Dylan. Stegman and Kwait produced the CD/DVD “Tom Rush Celebrates 50 Years of Music" and Rush's 2013 Symphony Hall concert.
I interviewed the filmmakers via email about the making of “Tom Rush: No Regrets”:
How did the two of you meet?
TODD KWAIT: Rob and I met our first year at Boston University (1977). We lived next door to each other at Warren Towers. We roomed together the remainder of undergraduate school.
ROB STEGMAN: As Todd noted, we met the very first day of our Freshman year at Boston University, where we quickly discovered a shared love of movies and music. I was majoring in film and television and it became my career. Todd took a more circuitous route to filmmaking, but I feel extremely fortunate that he sought me out to co-direct "For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival,” and now several films and music projects subsequent to it.
TK: We started working together on “For The Love Of The Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival” in 2010. We met Tom Rush on that film and struck up a relationship. We did a children's music video called “A Fish Story” with Tom, and then started working on the documentary in 2012.
How often has the film been screened so far, and what has been the reaction?
TW: The film has only been screened twice since winning the “Best New Hampshire Documentary” last October. These were still "rough" cuts. The film has been very well received. Saturday's show is the final cut!
How involved was Mr. Rush in filmmaking process?
TK: Tom was very involved in the whole process. We screened rough cuts for him and tweaked the film.
RS: Because this was a biographical documentary, we relied heavily on Tom for information about his life and career, and, of course, access to his personal photographs and documents. More important, perhaps, was the opportunity to follow Tom on the road to many, many performances (to the point that if we had any talent at all we could probably do a fair imitation of the set ourselves), and then working closely with him to stage the 2012 Symphony Hall concert makes that a particularly special part of the film.
I was fortunate enough to sit behind Mr. Rush and his family in New Hampshire during the Film Festival screening. They were laughing and kidding with each other throughout the movie. Do you have any sense of what it was like for him to see his life chronicled on the big screen?
RS: I think it is fair to say that it made Tom a little uncomfortable to hear the laudatory comments from the other people in the film: James Taylor, Jac Holzman and Dick Summer. But he seems to be overall pleased with it in that we presented a fair but mostly complimentary portrait of him and his career.
The original cut had some humorous animation segments. Are these still in the final cut?
RS: It did not. After much debate and audience testing, we decided that it was not appropriate to the tone of the film.
TK: The animation was cut during the final editing process. None of us thought that the animation was appropriate.
Anything left out of the film you would have liked to have included?
RS: Not really. The constraints of time and putting together a narrative always require that something be left out. But I don't think we left out anything significant to getting a pretty thorough look at him.
TK: We are very pleased with the final film and we are sure that people will enjoy it.
What’s the next big project for the two of you?
TK: Our new film is called “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” and it tells the story of singer-songwriter Meg Hutchinson and her struggle with bipolar disorder. The film will be completed by the end of this year.
"TOM RUSH: NO REGRETS" BOSTON PREMIERE TICKET INFORMATION: Regent Theatre, Arlington, MA, Saturday, June 28, 8 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Tom Rush, Rob Stegman, and Todd Kwait.
(Disclosure: I have spent time doing PR for the film.)
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