Q&A With Sparklehorse-Documentary Filmmakers Bobby Dass and Alex Crowton

Few artists maintain the kind of haunting mystery after their passing like Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. Much like Athens’ Vic Chesnutt, Linkous suffered bouts of severe depression and paralysis before committing suicide in 2010. To celebrate Linkous’ life, British filmmakers Bobby Dass and Alex Crowton directed The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse, which screens at the 40 Watt on Tuesday.

Flagpole caught up with the filmmakers and Angela-Faye Martin, a singer-songwriter with close ties to Linkous, to discuss the film and Sparklehorse’s legacy. 

Flagpole: You’re screening the film at the 40 Watt, a rock club. Was it a deliberate decision to promote the film in spaces typically designed for live music?

Alex Crowton: Like many things with this film, we have allowed the production and subsequent rollout in the U.S to develop organically. We knew that initially we would need to get the film in front of an audience that would have a connection and understanding of the subject, and we felt that screening the film at the 40 Watt was incredibly fitting of Mark and his music.

We have received a huge amount of interest in the film on the European film festival scene, and the film is screening at the end of this month at IndieLisboa. In addition, we are rolling the film out at several major U.K music festivals, including Festival No. 6 and the End of The Road festival. Not having major backing and on limited budgets, we felt it was important to select venues, festivals and events that we liked and/or had a connection with. Angela, Bobby and myself all have a love of the Athens music scene, and many of the bands that came out of Athens were formative of our taste making when Bobby and I were growing up in England. 

FP: What were your connections to Linkous before making the film? Did you find sifting through archived material to be a somewhat emotionally daunting process?

Bobby Dass: Alex and I had a shared love of Mark’s music going way back to the mid-’90s. In 2007 we created a promo with Mark for the album Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. We instantly hit it off with him, and interviewing him was really special, he was a unique individual. 

Angela Faye-Martin: I met him through a mutual friend and came to know him when he offered to produce an album for me. The narrative process brought back the feelings of grief, but we kept a close watch over one another and allowed the process to bind our friendships as collaborators. 

FP: You funded the film through a crowdsourcing campaign. How important was this to the completion of the project, and what are your thoughts on financing a film in this way?

BD: We have mixed feelings about funding the film via crowdsourcing. As ethical people, it’s not an easy thing to ask people for money, especially strangers. It also puts a weight of responsibility on us that the film does justice to not only Mark Linkous’ memory, but to the people that care about him. However, without the modest amount we raised, we could never have completed the film. We are very thankful to the fans and supporters for their help in allowing us to make this film.    

FP: You walk a fine line between idolizing Linkous and being very honest about his addiction and mental illness. Was it difficult to maintain this balance? 

AC: It is by its very nature a difficult line to tread, and objective truth within documentary filmmaking is inherently difficult to achieve. Our methodology was to steer away from a tabloid approach—we did not want to create a Wikipedia entry. For us it was always about the symbiosis of the man and the music. 

AFM: With respect to the narrative, there is a call and response between Mark and [me], as a means of navigating the audience through his albums and the events that led to his passing, and ultimately the narrative was informed by research into the nature of suicide and our perspectives on events leading to Mark’s passing.