Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 4, 2012

Director achieves TCFF dreams

Invitation to festival one goal of rock 'n' roll filmmaker


TRAVERSE CITY — Tony D'Annunzio set out to make a documentary about a long-ago Detroit rock 'n' roll palace, and one of his "10 goals on paper" was to earn an invite to the Traverse City Film Festival.

Now the Detroit native is midway through a whirlwind week of audience and filmmaker events and media interviews at the eighth annual festival, and he still marvels at being in the company of legendary filmmakers like Wim Wenders.

"These are people I admire as a film lover," said D'Annunzio, of Lake Orion, director and producer of "Louder than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story."

The movie screened Thursday at the State Theatre and will show again today at 6 p.m. at the City Opera House. Both screenings sold out before public ticketing began, but standby tickets may be available.

D'Annunzio's first-time independent film chronicles the Detroit music scene in the late 1960s, as told through the eyes of legendary bands who played there. At the center of it all is the Grande Ballroom, a short-lived concert venue on Detroit's West side that launched the likes of MC5, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Ted Nugent and Amboy Dukes.

D'Annunzio, 45, was too young to experience the Grande first-hand but became fascinated with its history while researching potential documentary projects centered around music. He calls it the greatest untold story in rock 'n' roll history.

"Everyone hears about Motown, but that '60s music scene was very impactful," he said. "At the Grande you could see Pink Floyd, The Who and Fleetwood Mac on one bill, for $3.50."

Beside interviews with musicians from the Grande's heyday, including B.B. King, Alice Cooper and Roger Daltrey, the film features previously unseen performance footage of major acts, rare archival photos and a soundtrack of 20 original recordings.

D'Annunzio said he used contacts from his 20-year career in the television broadcast industry — he's worked with every major broadcast company on some of the biggest televised events in the world, from sports to music to news — to help make the film, and called in favors from friends to help fund it. His passion for the project inspired others to kick in.

Still, he said the budget was so low that he waited until bands came to Detroit to interview them. His wife, Sharri, a chef, catered the shoots.

Now the four years it took to make the movie are finally paying off. "Louder than Love" has played to sellout audiences everywhere from Detroit and Ann Arbor to Chicago and Nashville in the four months since it was released. It even screened at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, another of D'Annunzio's "10 goals on paper."

And two weeks ago the movie won Best Documentary at the Las Vegas Film Festival.

Detroit Institute of Arts Film Curator Elliot Wilhelm said the movie is not only an account of a particular time and place but also a chronicle of an era.

"It's a beautifully structured and lovingly created documentary which I think will appeal to audiences beyond Detroit. It's not just nostalgia." said Wilhelm, who premiered the movie in April at the DIA's Detroit Film Theatre.

"I'm kind of overwhelmed at the success of this," said D'Annunzio, who believes interest in the film is fueled in part by Detroit's recent renaissance, which has produced a vibrancy he hadn't seen in years, and in part by music lovers like him who remember or have heard of the Grande.

"It was a very special time for people," he said, adding that the Grande, now owned by a church, has garnered interest from historical preservation groups who want to place a marker there. "There were 2 million in Detroit at the time. They're spreading out all over the country and they're telling this story. Now I'm validating it for them."