When Andrew Bird, the celebrated indie-folk musician, asked Xan Aranda to direct a documentary about the final dates of his 2009 concert tour, she wasted no time in answering him.
“I said no,” Aranda recalls from her home in Chicago.
The filmmaker, who at the time had known Bird for a decade and had collaborated with him on a couple of music videos, had good reason not to want to work with him again: Two years earlier, they had ended a years-long relationship and were still navigating that post-breakup territory in which former lovers search for a way to remain friends or, as can be the case with artists whose creative circles overlap, colleagues.
“I’d been advising him all that summer on a film of some sort,” Aranda says. “We were just sitting on his porch. He said, ‘We’ve done everything we can to not ask you,’ and I was like, ‘Buddy, no.’ Our relationship was in a good place. Why would I?”
She’d changed her mind by the time she got home, however, and two years later, the resulting film, “Andrew Bird: Fever Year,” premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center. The 80-minute movie, which eschews the biographical, “Behind the Music” approach in order to focus on Bird’s creative process, will screen 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Sunrise Civic Center Theatre as part of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. A second screening will take place 3:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Muvico Pompano 18.
After Aranda agreed to make the movie, she and Bird, whose rootsy, violin-driven music is charged with alternating currents of sincerity and abstraction, watched “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” and “Woodstock” for inspiration. In an interview in September, Bird said he wanted a work that resembles Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense.”
“Fever Year” doesn’t reach the same heights as that classic movie, but it does approximate the experience of attending a concert by the soft-spoken, sometimes-anxious artist. And even though Bird says it was “awkward” to have his ex-girlfriend follow him around with a camera for months, the film makes no mention of their relationship and reveals little about the musician's personal life.
“I didn’t want to spook the horse,” Aranda explains. “So we didn’t follow him to the stage. We’d be there and be observational. I’d try to talk to him about certain things, personal stuff, and he didn’t want to.”
Aranda says Bird, who owns the rights to the film and has suggested that he will not release it on DVD or allow it to be broadcast on television, was “very involved” with the production up until it was time to make the final cut. “He had some complaints,” the director says of one early draft. “We spent that summer with a rough cut that we never wanted to see again.”
Today, Bird seems to have mixed feelings about the movie, which by year’s end will have screened at more than 50 film festivals and, as the title suggests, chronicles a tour in which the thin, pallid performer was frequently sick.
“The feedback and respect has been really good,” he says. “It’s inherently difficult to watch a film about yourself. I remember watching it and thinking, 'I don’t have cancer, I don’t think. Is that really a plot point?’ But it is weird that I had a fever for months on end.”
Given her personal history with Bird, the musician’s reluctance to talk about himself on camera and the inherent pressures of shooting a low-budget movie, Aranda admits that “Fever Year” was not easy to make.
“We both fumbled actively in the making of the film,” says Aranda, whose current projects include a promotional film for Neko Case’s next album and “Mormon Movie,” an autobiographical work about her parents and the church in which she was raised. “We both screwed things up. In the end, we made a film that’s really good. ... I think I managed to make a film that’s intimate, but not revealing.”