Music Features

The Elephant 6 Recording Co. Documentary Receives Theatrical Release

Credit: Chris Bilheimer

The Elephant 6 Recording Co., the long-awaited documentary about the influential music collective of the same name, will officially hit silver screens all across the country this weekend. Directed by New Orleans-based filmmaker C.B. Stockfleth, the film traces how a small circle of friends from Ruston, LA relocated to Athens and Denver, and soon grew into an ever-expanding web of musicians and artists. 

Known for pioneering an idiosyncratic, psychedelic pop sound, the collective’s members often took a lo-fi DIY approach to music-making, favoring four-track recorders and handmade visual elements over slick production. Anchored by friendship and experimentation, the collective has been prolific in launching dozens of affiliated acts, including The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Circulatory System, The Music Tapes, Elf Power, of Montreal and Dixie Blood Moustache. 

“As the team for this project came together, what started out small and DIY grew into something much bigger and more ambitious,” says Stockfleth in his director’s statement. “The film is designed to capture an era and a movement, and to honor the spirit of this circle of small-town artist friends. Their art was made better because they did things collectively, and gave each and every member a chance to share the spotlight.”

The roots of the film trace back to 2007 in Lexington, KY, when Stockfleth, who regularly made music videos and concert films for friends’ bands, decided to do a big six-camera shoot to record an Apples in Stereo concert. After seeing the video, E6 founding member and Apples frontman Robert Schneider, who was studying mathematics at the University of Kentucky at the time, approached him to ask what he thought about creating a documentary on the collective. 

“At the time I knew nothing about them,” says Stockfleth. “But Robert seemed to think that my small-town background, along with his blessing, would allow me entrance to their somewhat secretive and protective world. And that’s how it began.”

The Elephant 6 Recording Co.

Through Schneider’s introduction, Stockfleth slowly began meeting the collective’s members, interviewing the likes of Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart, John Fernandes, Julian Koster, Hilarie Sidney, Andrew Reiger, Laura Carter, Bryan Poole, Jamey Huggins, Heather McIntosh and many others. While being previously unfamiliar with E6 may seem counterintuitive to directing a film, it allowed Stockfleth to approach the monumental task of unraveling an unwieldy, sprawling history with fresh eyes and ears.

After spending roughly a decade pulling the documentary together under the working title A Place We Have Been To, Stockfleth finally released the film in 2019 as A Future History Of: The Elephant 6 Recording Co. with a very unusual distribution model. Promotional flyers for an Elephant 6 Video Rental Club were posted in coffee shops and record stores across a handful of cities instructing curious parties to call a number to request a VHS tape by mail. Each tape included its own handmade cover art, a “library card” to sign when you return the tape, and a few flyers to hang and keep the magic spreading. Esoteric as this was, the initial rollout was perfectly in line with the collective’s whimsical spirit and served to tide over many fans until a wider release was possible. 

Amy Hairston

From there, the film went through a series of revisions. Lance Bangs, who had lived in Athens during the collective’s heyday, joined as producer and co-cinematographer, bringing a tremendous amount of archival video into the fold. Greg King and Rob Hatch-Miller, who had previously worked on the documentary Other Music together, joined as editor/producer and executive producer, respectively. The resulting documentary is a kaleidoscopic tapestry weaving together the sights and sounds of an underground music movement that should inspire any viewer, regardless of any prior knowledge of the group, to dig into its vast discography. 

The Elephant 6 Recording Co. premiered at DOC NYC last November, followed by an international premiere in Copenhagen in March and a hometown celebration in Athens in April. The film is now set for wide theatrical release on Aug. 25 through Greenwich Entertainment’s acquisition of North American distribution rights, and will also become available to stream via Amazon and Apple TV beginning Sept. 1. This weekend, Ciné will offer screenings on Aug. 25 at 10 p.m. and Aug. 26 at both 3 p.m. and 10 p.m., with John Fernandes offering a special performance in the lobby following the 3 p.m. screening.

WHO: The Elephant 6 Recording Co.
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 25, 10 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 26, 3 p.m. & 10 p.m. 
WHERE: Ciné 
HOW MUCH: $7–9.75