Locked and Loaded
AJFF Features an All-Star Tribute to One of the Unsung Heroes of the ‘60s

By Lee Valentine Smith

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is known for showcasing a plethora of famous names in often obscure films. For the 17th edition of the fest, one film boasts an especially high concentration of incredible performers. In “Bang! The Bert Berns Story,” Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Van Morrison are just a few of the musical giants paying tribute to a tragically unfamiliar pioneer of the industry. Until a couple of years ago, Berns was mostly known to historians and record geeks. The musician and businessman died in 1967 and his name faded from the collective consciousness of music fans, but a book, off-Broadway musical and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction began to ignite interest in the larger-than-life character. Concurrently, his son Brett Berns was quietly toiling away on a documentary about the man, the music and the New York record business of the ‘60s. The resulting film, a fast-paced, star-studded, house-rockin’ and often quite hilarious tribute, premiered at SXSW last year and is a featured attraction at AJFF. Insite spoke with first-time filmmaker Brett Berns just after he’d secured North American theatrical and digital distribution deal for the film.

Telling the story of your dad is obviously a labor of love, and the film looks very labor intensive.

Somebody said to me a while back, the real hard work of making a film happens after you’ve made it, and man, they were right. Right now we’re working on a theatrical release for the spring and we’ve already confirmed a bunch of cities. It’s my first time to the rodeo and I can’t believe the reaction to the film, it’s breathtaking!

You landed some very emotional interviews.

Bob said that the guests really opened up to me. Probably more than if they were talking to any other filmmaker, because it’s more emotional. We’re talking about my dad. There were tears and they just poured their hearts out. It was important to have people who were actually part of the history to tell the story.

The last few years have been great for the legacy of Bert Berns.

Yeah the New York Times called it “the Bert Berns Boomlet.” It started off with a book in 2014, that took 15 years and then the musical has been seven or eight years in the making, but yeah, we made an impact all of a sudden.

How was the premiere at SXSW last year?

We submitted it and they called and asked if it could be a world premiere there, so we rushed and finished it. Since then we’ve been all over with it. The film festival circuit has been phenomenal. I had no idea how much fun the festivals were, to see all the true believers and do the Q and A’s has been electrifying. When you watch it in a theater, it’s so funny, people are really engaged with it the whole time. When Keith Richards comes on screen, people just start applauding. It’s just an incredible story. You’ve got the mob and everything in there, so much stuff. Wait until you see the DVD extras! There was so much material, we couldn’t put it all in the film. It’ll come a few months after the theatrical release.

Bert died in 1967, what are your memories of him?

I never really knew him; I only know him through the memories of others and what I hear. But his example has been my guiding spirit in life, like living in the now, and living with heart and soul and collaborative spirit. I’ve been chasing his spirit all my life. It’s taken a small army to make this film happen, but I think we’re kind of ready. We’re locked and loaded just like the Bang logo.

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