Alexandria Bombach’s “It’s Only Life After All,” which tells the story of the folk rock duo Indigo Girls, is not your typical music documentary. For one, the doc’s stars, singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, are not producers on the film. Two, during production no topic was off-limits. Three, Ray and Saliers were the only two people interviewed for the doc. And four, the duo’s story is not told using the typical music biopic format. Bombach’s documentary is as much about the Grammy Award-winning duo’s on-stage career as it is about two individuals who stayed true to themselves in spite of success and fame. It’s also about two people who were never afraid to speak out against social and environmental injustice. Bombach spoke to Variety about the documentary, which premieres Jan. 19 at Sundance.
You initially wanted to film this doc while 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] are verité style films and that’s what I thought this one would be. I wasn’t expecting to make an archive film. So it was a new way of filmmaking for me, but I think inevitably it’s what the story really needed.
Structurally the doc does not feel like your traditional music biodoc, meaning you don’t start at the beginning of Ray and Saliers’ career and follow their upward trajectory. Why?
It’s important to really tell the story that needs to be told. The biopic format has been leaned on, but it’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 bring out the things that felt most important in terms of who [Ray and Saliers] are as people. So I just tried to listen to that rather than try and do something that is more typical within a genre.
The 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 some push back when I said that I didn’t want to do the formula of a music biopic. Also, I wanted to keep it independent because I feel like that was a promise that I made to Amy and Emily. They had said no to other filmmakers before and they said yes specifically 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 seeking to promote social change through nonfiction films. Would you classify “It’s Only Life After All“ as a social issue music doc?
I think Impact Partners do important films. They make films that are stories that need to be heard, and they believe in the impact of the story. On many different levels this is an important story right now. I wouldn’t say it’s specifically a one-issue film, but it’s more of a look at how to live an active life. How self-acceptance can affect yourself and also your whole community.