Road trip: Bay Area filmmaker Jim Granato captures a musician's bumpy ride on tour in a new documentary playing the SF International.

SFIFF52: Jim Granato's "D tour"

Dan Cowles April 19, 2009

Local filmmaker Jim Granato, whose movie D tour follows the band Rogue Wave and its ailing drummer Pat Spurgeon, on tour and on dialysis, has been on a bit of a road trip himself. Just back from screenings in Indiana, Florida and points East, Granato now brings his movie to the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it screens in competition for a Golden Gate Award in Documentary (Fri., May 1, 9 p.m., Mon., May 4, 3:15 p.m. and Thurs., May 7, 5:15 p.m.). Aptly named, D tour turns out to be less rock band/rock star road-show than a grimy tale of working class musicians and the healthcare system, as Spurgeon drags his dialysis kit on a glamour-less cross-country journey from show to show and couch to couch. Along the way, the narrative itself almost gets subverted as the story takes some unexpected and heartbreaking turns. A movie that starts as one man’s story of survival while chasing a dream ends up being just as much about community, sacrifice, and the complicated emotions around organ donation. I spoke with Granato in person a few weeks back.

SF360: How did you come into this project?

Jim Granato: I’ve known Pat for a number of years, starting in San Francisco. He was recognized by a mutual friend of ours as (a) guy who I knew of in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, who played in a bunch of bands that I really liked a lot. So, of course I go up to Pat introduce myself. He and I hit it off because we have many mutual friends and big love for music.

SF360: And the same hair

Granato: ... and same hair. We have the same hair. You’re the first one to catch that. I have an enormous amount of respect for Pat as a buddy of mine but as a musician. He’s always been a really wonderful musician. He’s played in numerous bands over the years and has always deserved more than what he’s had. So, fast forward several years later; Pat’s been playing in a band, Rogue Wave, that has done good things for him. Two or three years after the band initially started, things were really starting to take off for this band. They had still a lot of work to do, but they were definitely kind of on their way. Right about when this happened is when Pat’s kidney starts to fail. And he calls me up—and we’ve worked on film projects before, by the way—and he wanted to know if I wanted to do something, a piece, a short piece in fact, and we had no idea what that would be. We thought it might be a 10-, 15-minute piece that would just kind of target other people like Pat who are in need of a kidney or an organ. We wanted to show those people that they still have something to look forward to in life … because it’s really—it’s a bummer.

SF360: So the original goal was more of a— thinking about sort of sharing this with other people with…

Granato: Ailments, you know?

SF360: But it kind of turned into something else?

Granato: Yeah, that was the first thing. The second thing was that Pat was on—first of all Pat had partial function of his kidney left. So he was certainly not in the red as a lot of people who are in need of organs are. I mean a lot of people can’t leave their house; they have to be constantly hooked up to a machine of some sort and dialysis patients ... anybody who has run into the subject of dialysis might be familiar with the term ‘hemodialysis,’ which is what has been around for 75 years or so. Where people go into a clinic or a hospital and they get hooked up and they get their blood sort of ‘churned’ is kind of the word I would use. Three days a week, four days a week, depending how sick they were. Pat was doing a type of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis … which mobilized him; was actually able to let him go on tour with the band, which .. you know, sparked a lot of concern, not so much on Pat’s end. Pat really had a—he knew what he was doing was the right choice. He could not make himself unavailable. He just could not, it was not a choice. As Pat says in the movie if you have a back up plan, you’ll take it. And this was before he was sick. He always knew that this was—that he had to make this priority number one. So nothing was going to stop him even if it meant his health. Of course, realistically, Pat’s a smart guy, and if it really came to dire straits he would have taken himself off the road ... But, this is a story about a guy who really kind of not only tries to delicately balance his health with fulfilling his dreams but it’s also a story of raising an awareness about organ donation, about health insurance, and really the camaraderie that sort of sets forth and surrounds people in need in this case the music community.

SF360: It was really interesting that it starts out as kind of a movie about Pat but then it clearly becomes a movie about the people around him as well; his band mates; but also the lives of the ones he barely knows who wants to give him an organ.

Granato: Evan Farrell was the bass player for Rogue Wave at the time and his wife Jill—who really didn’t know Pat very much saw that he was in need—and she just really, out of the blue, felt like doing it. And here is a mother of two and this is shown in the film and when you ask her, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I mean it was a simple answer just like, ‘Because I could,’ really. And to me that’s extraordinary. I mean, for people to come out of the woodwork like that to offer an organ to somebody who is in need. Somebody who is maybe a little bit better than an acquaintance but somebody that, in her view, she had a connection with, perhaps, or again somebody she thought she could help. And she goes on to say that she’s a caretaker by nature; I felt that was extraordinary. And I don’t know how many films really show people like this.

SF360: Did you know them (Pat and Evan) back in Bloomington, hang out with them?

Granato: There wasn’t really a happening thing between us three until many years later after we were all really established in San Francisco. Bloomington is known for its music scene. Small college town, everybody knew each other and everybody gave a shit about everybody. So coming out of those roots, Pat and Evan had a fantastic relationship and Pat and I again when we met we hit it off immediately because we knew each other a little more I think than two strangers would normally know because we came from the same town. And we ended up going back there to interview Jill and Evan. We ended up getting a couple of fantastic scenes…to film Pat doing dialysis in Bloomington at a house that very much represented any random place that he would be on the road at any particular time doing dialysis.

SF360: So what year was the first tour that you started off or Pat called you and said, ‘Let’s go make this movie.’

Granato: This was funny. Today is April 1st, 2009, and it was almost exactly three years ago. I almost want to say it was the first week of April actually or the last week of March, 2006, so it’s been three years.

SF360: So you shot through two years basically or two and a half years?

Granato: Yes I would say a little over two years in shooting, certainly it was an off-and-on shooting schedule and about a year editing maybe a year and a half. There was editing and shooting that sort of overlapped of course.

SF360: Did you meet them at certain— why did you pick the places that you met them to meet them.

Granato: I didn’t pick the places. First of all there was no money, absolutely no money. We—Pat and I—just decided to try to film some stuff to see what we could get. So that first year out or that first few months, I just gave Pat a camera. I gave him a single-chip consumer camera to shoot some diary stuff. I really had no idea how much he would do. Pat already had enough going on between his dialysis and playing gigs and getting little sleep, being on the road, blah, blah, blah … to actually have the will to film himself and film what was happening around him. After a couple of months of this I did an initial interview with him to get some history, et cetera and I would check in with him every once in while and he would be—he would just basically come back with like, ‘I am not really getting a lot [laughs] I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying.’ And so I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of that. But not too long afterwards, I find out that his band mate, Evan Farrell, who had a camera of his own, went out and he noticed Pat wasn’t shooting much and he knew this was an important thing. So he started shooting stuff, which I think provided a great other eye.

SF360: You shot the show (the Benefit concert for Pat that frames the movie), right.

Granato: Well, yes, the concert was my baby. The concert was September of ’06, about five or six months after Pat and I initially met. I mean it wasn’t planned, only like a week before did Pat call and say, ‘Look this thing is happening it’s huge, there’s a lot of press about it, all these Indy Rock celebs are coming down to play it, we’ve got to film it.’ Now I think Pat thought I was just going to show up with my camera. I ended up putting together really quickly a real solid six camera crew that captured this really great night. Rogue Wave was actually coming home that day, after playing a gig at the Download Fest, which was at Mountain View earlier that afternoon and now they were coming to the Independent, San Francisco, to play a benefit concert—their own benefit concert with Nada Surf, Ben Gibbard, etc. So it was a real special evening. The show sold out, people came in droves. That provided the thread for me to really try and take this film in a certain direction. I knew I had some really wonderful stuff and I had a concert movie that kind of inter-cut with this documentary about Pat. And at the time I honestly thought it was going to be more of like, The Last Waltz, with Pat filling in the Robbie Robertson role like a couple a minutes of Pat here doing this and that. And honestly I am not sure how interesting that would have been.

SF360: It works as a nice holder for the rest of the movie right now.You’ve got all kinds of stuff in there, even old film, archival stuff . I like that diagram with the kidneys and the body and then you superimpose Pat.

Granato: That was based actually on an old medical film from like the late ’70s that I found. Those graphics are pretty much the same. We changed it a little bit. And it was a woman that was originally in like a Mr. Goodbody suit that sort of originally laid underneath those graphics so we of course put in Pat and added the effects and it worked out pretty well.

SF360: A lot of the mixed media really works I think.

Granato: Yeah, and I was able to utilize all that home-movie footage. The scene where he goes into the pawn shop and he’s picking up guitars and he’s playing—that was shot over ten years ago on a Bolex that I was testing that I wanted to buy. That was test footage that I had in my closet, got it transferred. It looked so good. It just ended up being a great little scene. And I was relying on my friendship with Pat and my history with Pat to really tell this kind of insider’s story. I think he’s giving me a little bit more because we have a little bit of history and we like each other.

SF360: Some of the shots are so intimate, like the shot with the dog, that’s a great scene and I think you kind of touched on this earlier about having intimacy with Pat that sort of allowed him to let his guard down. But that’s kind of every filmmakers dream right is to have the pure access and just comfort to sort of imagine the camera is almost not there.…

Granato: That scene that you’re talking about, I mean, that’s probably as close to verité as I think I get in that. But the intimacy is important, the relationship you have with your subject is of the utmost importance. If Pat and I didn’t get along well there wouldn’t be a movie. Because I would not have finished it.

SF360: Or not cared.

Granato: And if I don’t care then my camera certainly doesn’t care. I get lazy and I don’t give a shit and—anyway, what was great (about that scene) was we just talked about it the night before like, ‘Hey let’s just film you doing dialysis tomorrow.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah let’s do it. Cool.’ And we went on to another subject. And we went to bed that night or whatever and we’re crashing on my friend’s couch. Got up the next morning and I remember we were both kind of sick because it was cold, it was in later winter time in Indiana. We didn’t have any coffee and we’re both trying to hold back coughing, hacking, and all this stuff and we just did it. We just rolled with it and sometimes it’s the best stuff. I’ve got to tell you. Really lucky that scene was the first scene that I had edited together that I knew was going to stay locked. I knew that was kind of a golden scene. And I knew I had a movie actually at that point too.

SF360: Right, so a lot of things happened that weren’t expected, like I kind of think one of the interesting scenes is when Pat meets the family that actually gave him the kidneys and it’s really uncomfortable, actually.

Granato: Well it’s awkward. And it appears awkward in the film because that’s the way it was. I’m sure if those guys met tonight it would still be awkward.…

SF360: I mean I love that scene when the women who donated, who’s son donated the kidney.

Granato: Brenda.

SF360: She just kind of opens up and at the end she is like just naked.

Granato: And I was lucky to get that…. I remember that moment. Looking at her and I knew in my mind, I said, ‘Man, I’ve got a good moment there.’ That’s why I didn’t cut away from her. I didn’t say anything. That’s hard when you’re dealing with some highly emotional subject matter— you want quickly respond or you want to make sure that person’s is doing okay.

SF360: It’s interesting how the movie kind of starts out as one thing and then goes in some other ways and finds other story lines in other characters. I mean, it’s not a typical movie in that sense.

Granato: It takes a left turn. I think that filmmakers, young filmmakers, really hope for that. But boy I tell you, life dishes out some pretty strange stuff and this is a film about life. First and foremost it’s about life and it’s also about death, unfortunately, more than one. And the tag line is ‘a rock and roll film about life, death and bodily functions.’

SF360: Well, stories unfold because lives unfold and things happen and that’s kind of why you keep following the story in order to do what you have to do.

Granato: Take a look at some documentaries. They take years and years and years to complete because life does its thing. And in this case it did its thing sort of unexpectedly as in so many cases. In fact, I was not in town when Pat received the call that he got a kidney. There were video cameras there, planted: Pat had a camera that his girlfriend ended up shooting and then Zach Rogue, the band lead singer—…. It was just the initial news where I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, get footage, get footage, don’t— just get everything, everything.’ I mean I was in Florida, visiting my parents. I got back and I was able to pick it up. It’s funny how all things fall, because you have all these different types of video that sort of fall into place and again it’s that texture thing and I really like that.

SF360: You just showed the film back (in Bloomington) too. How was that? What was that like?

Granato: It was great. It was a special evening. Lots of friends of family were there, some family for me, not much from my part but mostly people who were involved with Pat and Evan quite extensively and again Bloomington camaraderie. It’s a special place. Everybody knows it who lives there and a lot of people came out that night to show their support for those guys, for me …. People kind of stepped up to help me do some press. It was shown in a theater that I worked at as a teenager so that was kind of special for me 20 years later I go back 20 years on the nose.

SF360: The whole donor thing is really powerful It seems like a great film to show at high schools.

Granato: That’s going to happen. San Francisco International Film Festival got a private screening for, I heard today, at least 200 students. Then somebody in Indiana after the Q&A that I took part in said, ‘This should be shown in like Driver’s Ed classes.’ I mean all these ideas kind of come out of it. Again I’m tickled because this film obviously has a life of its own. And it keeps on going in its way and hopefully it will be utilized by all these great suggestions that people are coming forth and it’s wonderful. It’s cool. …. All we want to do is start a conversation. In no way are we trying to question people’s morals or their beliefs. It’s just—let’s just open the conversation. And I think luckily as a filmmaker I was able to convey that and I was able to walk out of a theater thinking about this movie. And you know what? A lot of them have come up to me either that night, that day after or week after I get emails saying, ‘You know, your movie has stuck with me and I’ve got to tell you I’ve changed my mind about a few things in life.’ I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

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