Rock Documentary Brings Brothers Closer

“Mistaken for Strangers” is making its Cincinnati premiere during the Cincinnati Film Festival! The rock-doc will be shown at Memorial Hall, Friday, September 6th

In 2010, rock band The National were about to embark on the biggest tour of their career.  After ten years as a band, and five critically acclaimed albums, they were finally enjoying wider recognition. Lead singer Matt Berninger invited his younger brother, Tom, to join the band's crew. A budding horror filmmaker, Tom – who is nine years younger than Matt and listens exclusively to heavy metal – decided to bring his camera along. Tom is at sea in the world of indie rock and living in his older brother's shadow brings out the younger sibling in him. He drinks, complains, and struggles to balance his ambition with his tour responsibilities. The result is a film about brothers and making something of your own.

We sat down with director, Tom Berninger to discuss his debut feature film. Tell me a little bit about how you got started in directing...
Tom Berninger: I grew up a movie kid. My family never had cable TV but my brother happened to convince my dad into getting a VCR. This was back in '85 when my brother was 14 and I was 5. On Fridays my brother would rent some movies and since I was the youngest by 9 years I had to rent a kids movie. Every week I'd just rent the same thing, 'Ghostbusters'. I think I was trying to build up the nerve to watch the librarian scene without covering my eyes. But then on Saturday morning while everyone else was sleeping, I would sneak in the movie my brother rented for himself the night before, usually some rated R action flick. So while I couldn't see what other kids were watching on cable, Nickelodeon or MTV, I was becoming obsessed with movies like “Predator” and “Aliens” at a very young age. I loved the special effects, the blood and gore. I say now that they were hallucinations for me. I knew movies were something special, something you couldn't see on regular TV and I knew I wanted to make people feel what I felt.  

CM: How has completing the film made you feel? Are you ready for the next or just see how things come?
TB: In my twenties I was overwhelmed a sense that I was was not living up to my personal ambitions. I made a couple of short films which I am now proud of, but at the time I was very disheartened and I never really promoted them them at all. I think a lot of people in their twenties go through the same thing. So being in my early thirties, completing this movie was a "now or never" kind of scenario. My brother was insightful enough by letting me come on tour and shoot whatever I wanted, but in doing so I got in way over my head. I had about 200 hours of footage with no real band story. It was only in the cutting room with my co editor, Carin Besser that I saw that the story was about me and my failed attempted at what I thought a "indie roc doc" is supposed to be. We took all the embarrassing stuff that happened to me on tour and put it in the movie. I feel the movie got me over the weird anxiety I had in my twenties and I'm now living in the moment. 

CM: Did this film bring you and your brother closer?
TB: The movie has made us closer together. I looked up to him so much as a kid that it created unrealistic goals for me. Now that we are both adults, I see that we are two different people with individual interpretations of life. Unbelievably, we work well together.  We are a bit like the odd couple.

CM: After touring with The National, do you "get it"...why they are so successful? Or are you still not a fan?
TB: I know why they are so successful, it's because they worked really, really hard at it. It didn't come easy. And I acknowledge that National fans take their music pretty seriously. Their music has helped people through tough personal times and the band finds new fans by being truthful and honest while rocking. And like most people I enjoy all different kinds of music but I just happen to be grounded in metal. The National and other indie rock bands too often make me look on the inside, make me turn introspective. But I feel I spend too much time being self conscious and sweating all the small things. So I don't want to listen to that stuff. Metal is a screaming release where for 45 minutes I can hack, shoot, impale, or burn to a crisp anyone I want to. I don't think thats crazy. I'm a very peaceful person because I have that outlet. 

CM: What is next for Tom Berninger? premieres, next film, new metal band in Cincy...
TB: Like I said before, I'm living in the moment. Enjoying everything and not taking anything for granted. I have a few projects I'm thinking about but it's too early to say. And no metal band either. Music's my brother thing. 

“Mistaken for Strangers” is premiering in Cincinnati Friday September 6th at Memorial Hall. Doors at 6:30p, Movie at 7p. Tom Berninger will be in attendance for this special screening event and on hand for a post film Q&A session. Get your tics HERE!


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