A documentary made while the Songbirds Guitar Museum was preparing to close for good in August 2020 is keeping the memory of the world's largest collection of rare and unique guitars alive on the independent film festival circuit.
"Songbirds: A Documentary Film" was created by Dagan Beckett with the help of former Songbirds staff members and uber guitar fans Irving Berner and David Davidson, along with many former employees and musicians who played the venue or sat for a "Vault Sessions" online video interview.
Beckett was a frequent museum attendee and a film producer, and when it was announced that the museum was closing for good because of the pandemic, he wanted to document as much of it as he could.
He approached Johnny Smith, Songbirds' executive director and Songbirds Foundation board chairman, with the idea. Smith told him he had one week, and Beckett was given full access. Almost immediately, curator Irv Berner latched onto the idea and offered his help in telling the stories of the guitars one by one.
"I got a call from [co-worker] Jimmy Kelly who said this guy is shooting this video and we all need to be here tomorrow, and I personally freaked out," Berner said. "I always wanted to do a coffee table book and document all of this because all I could think about was there is no record of this."
Berner said an idea struck him and he approached Beckett and said, "I have no budget, no money and nothing to offer you, but would you mind walking from one end of the museum to the other while I give a complete tour of what is here?' and he shockingly said, 'Let's do it.'"
Davidson, the man largely responsible for finding and purchasing much of the private collection, also joined in to offer help and information.
Beckett spent hours on his own dime filming each guitar. He continued to talk to people after the museum had closed, and then spent another 10 months editing the hours of footage he shot into a nearly 60-minute documentary.
Since then, he has been submitting the film to festivals in hopes that if it gets picked up by enough, or by some of the really big ones such as Sundance, a streaming service such as Hulu or Netflix might pick it up.
It has been chosen for screening or an award at five festivals to date and has been submitted to at least that many more.
The film was a quarterfinalist at the Oniros Film Festival in New York and selected for screening at the Franklin International Indie Film Festival in Franklin, Tennessee, and the Lonely Seal International Film, Screenplay and Music Festival in Boston. It was also an official selection by the Silk Road Film Awards at SRFA Cannes and the Global Indie Film Festival in Glasgow.
Beckett said he hopes to screen the film locally when the festival season is over.
"I'm very honestly humbled at these opportunities," he said. "When you stare at this footage and this story for a year, you get numb to it, so seeing the reactions of the different programmers from around the world gives you some perspective. It wants to push you to take it to the next level.
"I think I can speak for Irv and David and even Johnny when I say the goal is we just want to get the story of the greatest guitar collection in the world out there," Beckett said.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.