Alexandria Bombach’s “It’s Only Life After All,” which tells the story of folk rock duo Indigo Girls, is not your typical music documentary. For one, the doc’s stars, singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Salyers, are not producers of the film. Two, nothing was off-limits during production. Three, Ray and Salyers were the only two interviewed for the doc. And four, the duo’s story isn’t told using the typical music biopic format. Baumbach’s documentary is as much about the Grammy Award-winning duo’s on-stage career as it is about two men who stayed true to themselves despite success and fame. It’s also about two people who weren’t afraid to speak out against social and environmental injustice. Baumbach spoke with Variety about the documentary, which premieres Jan. 19 at Sundance.
You originally wanted to film this doc while you were on tour with the Indigo Girls in 2020, but COVID prevented that from happening. Was this project originally intended to be a concert film?
no But Covid completely changed everything about the making of this film. my past [docs] Verité style films and what I thought it would be. I did not expect to make an archive film. So it was a new way of making films for me, but I think it was inevitably what the story needed.
Structurally the doc doesn’t feel like your traditional music biodoc, meaning you don’t start at the beginning of Ray and Salyers’ careers and follow their upward trajectory. Why?
The story that needs to be told is really important to tell. Leaning towards the biopic format, but that’s not necessarily right for every film. I have a little post-it note on my computer that says, ‘Does this feel honest?’ I really wanted to figure out the things that seemed most important in terms of who [Ray and Saliers] exists as a human being. So I tried to listen to it instead of trying and doing something that was more typical of a genre.
Indigo Girls are music legends and streaming platforms love docs about famous musicians, but you made this film independently. Why?
I definitely knew from day one that I wanted to keep it independent because there was a bit of pushback when I said I didn’t want to do the formula of a music biopic. Also, I wanted to keep it independent because I think that was a promise I made to Amy and Emily. They had said no to other filmmakers before and they specifically said yes to me. Ultimately I didn’t want to lose creative control of the film.
Impact Partners helped you make this film independently. They work with filmmakers who want to promote social change through non-fiction films. Would you classify “It’s Only Life After All“ As a social issue music doc?
I think Impact Partners makes important films. They make films that require listening and they believe in the impact of stories. This is an important story right now on several levels. I wouldn’t say it’s specifically a one-issue film, but it’s more about how to live an active life. How self-acceptance can affect yourself and your entire community.