Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth cuts to the heart of its subject through a process of artful lying
“The thing we kept saying to ourselves, over and over again,” says Iain Forsyth, “is ‘the truth doesn’t matter.’”
“We just wanted to open it up,” chimes in Jane Pollard. “To blow it wide open, and allow it to be imaginative and mythological, to live in a creative space that fires your head off in loads of directions.”
Pollard and Forsyth are in their Sydney hotel suite, trying to shake off the pall of jetlag on the morning of the opening of the Sydney Film Festival, at which 20,000 Days on Earth, their whimsical, insightful, largely staged documentary about Nick Cave is the opening film.
The movie appears to follow Cave around during one eventful day in his adopted town of Brighton. We see him attend a session with his psychiatrist (faked); visit Bad Seed Warren Ellis at his cliffside home (not his real home); and sorting through old photographs at the Nick Cave Archive (which is actually in Melbourne at the Arts Centre). Driving between these destinations, Cave chats to former collaborators Kylie Minogue, Blixa Bargeld and Ray Winstone, who magically appear in the passenger seat.
The singer opens up about his childhood, getting old, his sex life, his inspirations, and his motivations. Performing, he says, is a transformative act: the singer becoming something greater than themselves. “I live for it,” he confesses. It’s a theme reflected in the way the film was made, the directors say.
“None of us really liked the traditional form of music documentary,” Forsyth says. “The idea that if you see Bono washing the dishes and taking the kids to school, that somehow there’s a ‘truth’ you’re learning about the artist. What we all felt was that if a rock star is any good, then they become the thing they’ve created.”
Forsyth and Pollard are video artists and longtime Cave fans. (“When Iain and I met 20 years ago the first mixtape he gave me had the obligatory song for wooing girls, ‘The Ship Song,’” Pollard recalls.) They first got to know Cave when hired to film a Grinderman radio session.
“So when Nick called out of the blue and said, ‘Warren and I are gonna start writing the next album, did you wanna come in?’ we were like ‘yeah, of course’. We started filming, and it was obvious we were getting footage that deserved a much bigger vessel than YouTube. Nick was like: ‘Why not make a film?’”
The filmmakers say their touchstone was the bombastic 1976 Led Zeppelin documentary The Song Remains the Same. “Robert Plant riding a stallion with a kestrel on his arm and rescuing a fair maiden – it’s ridiculous on every level,” says Forsyth, “but it says so much more about the band and being a rock star than anything in a fly-on-the-wall doc.”
20,000 Days on Earth opens Thu Aug 21.