2021 Milwaukee Film Festival: TOM PETTY SOMEWHERE YOU FEEL FREE

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The Milwaukee Film Festival returned from May 6 to 20, 2021. Once again going virtual, alas, but the 2020 fall festival was a big hit and helped lift morale around Milwaukee with a dedication to entertainment, art, and interaction. Coming back in May, supposedly its new home, is ambitious and promises a lot.

The “Opening Night” feature was the documentary TOM PETTY, SOMEWHERE YOU FEEL FREE. Centered around 16mm footage discovered by Tom Petty’s daughter Adria, the movie goes into depth on the making of the late Tom Petty’s very successful album WILDFLOWERS. If you’re a fan of Tom Petty, that’s pretty much all you need to know. If you’re not a fan, there’s probably not enough depth in the story to really make a case for the film without intrinsic interest in the subject matter to begin with.

Fortunately, I’m generally a fan of Tom Petty and with an extensive list of Tom Petty’s songs featured in the film there’s plenty to entertain and remind us of how much Tom Petty is missed. It’s a testament to the depth of Tom Petty’s talent that at 89 minutes you still want more music. That part of the documentary delivers and is convincing that WILDFLOWERS is a major work.

But, beyond the document of the making of the album, there’s not much meat to gnaw on here. There are hints of deeper angles, but this is pretty much a hagiography from all around the late singer. It’s interesting that Tom Petty would divorce his wife shortly after the album was completed, and it certainly deepens the meaning of certain lyrics, but it never cuts deeper than the known facts and the reasoning and feelings need to be guessed at. There’s some behind the scenes drama about Tom Petty parting ways with his longtime drummer, but no one has anything bad to say on either side. That’s an event with no particular significance in the scheme of the movie.

TOM PETTY, SOMEWHERE YOU FEEL FREE absolutely delivers on the music, but it’s little more than a making of an album otherwise. A story which grows repetitive, we worked on this track, it turned out well, we moved to the next, repeat. The 16mm film footage is a treasure, but it’s not something that really has a narrative around it and the decades later interviews, by friends that don’t have anything particularly revelatory to say, kind of leaves this as a fans only offering. Luckily, Tom Petty had tons of fans.

The 2021 Milwaukee Film Festival ran from May 6, 2021 until May 20, 2021. Many of the films that played the festival will find a virtual home on Milwaukee Film’s virtual Sofa Cinema site or at a local cinema or streaming site. The online home of the Milwaukee Film Festival can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website.