Grateful Dead: Amir Bar-Lev Docu

By 2003, Amir Bar-Lev had just one film made, the well received Fighter.

But it was than that he began thinking of his next, mush bigger and ambitious project, Grateful Dead documentary.

To that extent, he spent over a decade trying to get the band’s blessing and support, and then another 3 years producing and shooting the film.

Long Strange Trip opens in theaters on May 25, before playing on Amazon Prime Video June 2.

With a running of time four hours and divided into six acts, the doc chronicles the Bay Area band’s journey from the San Francisco Acid Tests to the death of legendary guitarist and co-founder Jerry Garcia.

Bar-Lev first discovered the Dead’s music as a teenager in Berkeley, California. 1973 is his favorite year from the Dead’s massive concert vaults. His most cherished live version of “Dark Star” was recorded on March 1, 1969 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.

“The Grateful Dead was a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” he told Variety. “Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon say they’re fans of the Dead, so they’re obviously hearing one thing, while I’m hearing a different thing.”

No stone was left unturned when it came to music used in the film, which was remixed in 7.1 Surround Sound from the master recordings.

The filmmaker says he was heartbroken about the songs that didn’t make the film. “Box of Rain,” “Jack Straw,” “Estimated Prophet” and “Cassidy” are among the missing tunes, but fans will be more than happy to hear a chilling version of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” along with renditions of “The Other One” and “Morning Dew.”

Approach to making this film?

I set about with a goal to make a film that felt musical rather than only spoke about music. That evolved with a formal approach that was layered and impressionistic and that is painstakingly slow to do. But we wanted the film to share things in common with Terence Malik, Spike Jonze and Michele Gondry’s films, because those films are more psychedelic than films overtly about drugs.

Making a very long film?

We were commissioned to make a 90-minute film and when we got to two hours we were only up to 1974 so we had a discussion with our team. I have a very patient financier who is also a Dead fan. We Dead fans have a vernacular that we can call upon when explaining that the plan needs to get abandoned and things need to get improvisational.

The Holy Grail video and audio recordings?
We found the remnants of documentaries that were never completed because the band slipped LSD [to the crew] in order to thwart their forward progress. We found Jerry Garcia professing his undying love to his former sweetheart on a cassette recording from 1991.

Choosing music for the film?
One of the things we had that was really special is that David Lemieux, the Dead’s archivist, gave us access to all the stems of any multi-track recordings they did. We were able to take their music and break it into constituent parts and kind of remix it and then create a 7.1 surround sound mix out of it.

Appeal to non-Deadheads?
You should go see a film if it’s well made, you don’t have to care for the subject matter. You should go see a war movie even though you are not interested in being a soldier. You should go see a music documentary if you’re curious about the phenomenon.

Dead and Company hitting the road again?

I love Dead and Company. I’m going to a ton of shows this summer and went to a ton last summer.