A documentary exploring the spiritual, artistic, and personal turmoil of musician David Bazan (from the band Pedro the Lion), set against America’s own crisis of faith highlighted by the 2016 presidential election.
The first few years of having a camera in my hands, came while shooting live music and touring with bands. This permanently baked music and sound into the way I thought about framing, movement and film as a medium. As I continued to shoot, I began to understand the incredible power in immersing an audience into the tone and feeling of a place or happening. Editing those early projects helped me understand how powerful the documentary format can be when trying to unpack ideas or themes stuck in otherwise impossible nuance and complexity. Over the past 15 years, each film I’ve made has helped me understand this potential of not only putting the viewer in the subject’s shoes but also inside their heads.
In a recent profile Matt Warren from Film Independent asked, “Moving through La Source, A Certain Kind of Light and In Pursuit of Silence the themes at the core of your films seem to be getting progressively more spiritual rather than political—is that intentional?” I hadn’t made that connection at that point but he was absolutely right and my new film Strange Negotiations solidifies that movement in an undeniable way. When the idea of this film came to me it seemed and has proven to be a film I am uniquely qualified to make.
Strange Negotiations finds a good part of its motivation and timing in the much overlooked influence modern organized religion has on today’s pressing social issues in America. Much of David’s music and fan interactions are centered around creating meaningful conversations about faith systems, bringing attention to the importance of interrogating world views and staying ever open to the data our world and interactions offer. Even in its steady decline, he understands the incredibly powerful place the evangelical community holds in the political and social sphere of this country and it’s massive impact on many of the most pressing social justice issues we face in this country.
With half a lifetime on the inside of mainstream Christian religious institutions and a bible college education, David has a very rare voice in this conversation. Given his history as one of the most well respected Christian songwriters in mainstream culture, his voice still figures large within the evangelical community. Mainstream media called Bazan’s Curse Your Branches his breakup letter to God but somehow it was still voted into Christianity Today’s top records of the year. As the cultural hold of being a so-called “Christian nation” loosens, the ability to individually reassess one’s deepest beliefs presents itself as a new cultural norm for the first time in generations as seen in the millions of religiously homeless engaging in America’s #Exvangelical movement.
The way David has used his songwriting to thoughtfully deconstruct and negotiate through his entire worldview was the thing that got me. The more I dove into his 20 year body of work, the more confident I became that a film was the right way to tell this complex but increasingly relevant story in a helpful way. I had no idea that the years of shooting ahead of David and I, would fittingly coincide with the most dramatic swings of his life. Sharing many of David’s existential misgivings personally while also struggling to support a family as an artist, making this film has been exhaustingly close to home but also endlessly helpful. Now I am just so honored to be able to share this piece of David and my life with you.
About David Bazan
David Bazan has never had the answers. His records almost exclusively live inside questions. Questions of politics, of relationships, of addiction, and of God. For anyone looking to art to remove doubt, Bazan is not that refuge. With a catalogue that orbits the darkest corners of the human experience, his songs are the tiny pinprick of light, the first breath coming up for air, the rest stop on a trip with no destination.
Under the name Pedro the Lion, starting in the late 1990s, David released a series of highly praised records that documented with stark honesty the path from struggling believer to restless unbeliever. With Pedro, David followed a traditional record release path – new album every two years, relentless touring, club show blurring into club show with an ever shifting line up of brilliant hired guns, showcasing his penchant for hard hitting rock and roll, his ability to imbue vulnerable melodies with guts and muscle. But it took a toll – financially, emotionally, and musically. By 2005, it was time to not just treat the symptoms, but attempt to regenerate entirely. David shed the band name and set out under his own, down the long, obscure path toward some semblance of sustainability; no cure-all, no quick answer, just years of trial and error, and the patience to follow through.
In 2009 during preparation for the release of Curse Your Branches, David took further steps to reorder his life on the road: he pioneered a new model for touring – living room shows. Embarking on tour after tour in the US and abroad, he alternated between these solo house shows for a few dozen people at a time and 300-500 capacity rock clubs with his band. Despite many believing it to be an unwise gamble, the house show format was a quiet triumph. Continuing to work both formats, David managed to keep the rock band plate spinning through multiple club tours in 2011-12. As a result, David became the #1 most touring artist on Billions Corp’s enormous roster, accumulating well over a thousand shows since 2009, an achievement that brought pride, but one that left him bone tired, depleted, and unable to write.
Driven to figure it out, David gave up the band and focused more on house shows. It was a natural expression of his lyrical vulnerability – take away distraction, sing some raw shit, and see who stays. Not only did people stay, more people came, and on top of the tours being successful, it rehabilitated David’s desire for the road, making way for the next experiment.
Having spent half of the last decade on tour, away from home, David’s new songs reflect the wandering life of a traveling troubadour. It’s what, and whom, he leaves at home that drives David’s new work. His writing now reflects the duality that had blocked him from writing before – what it means to have a home, and have to constantly leave it to make ends meet.
About the Filmmaker
Brandon Vedder is an award winning documentary filmmaker. Brandon’s career began touring with and making films about musicians. His early days had him shooting for concert films like Pearl Jam: Live at the Garden. In 2013, alongside Transcendental Media, Brandon produced, edited and shot the acclaimed documentary La Source, narrated by Academy Award nominated actor, Don Cheadle. In 2015 Brandon directed, shot & edited A Certain Kind of Light, a documentary short that received six best short documentary awards and aired on PBS in 2017. In Pursuit of Silence, which Brandon produced & shot, premiered at SXSW and released theatrically in 2016 where it became a favorite of critics, boasting a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Brandon is currently traveling and promoting his feature directorial debut, Strange Negotiations, which premiered at SXSW early 2019 and will release wide in the fall.