World Premiere: SXSW Film Festival
Documentary Feature Competition
Austin, Texas, USA – March 2017

Arts, Music, Biography
Running Time:
Emma Franz Films
Emma Franz
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A character portrait of anti-archetype guitar hero, Bill Frisell, this nuanced film traces the ideas and processes that shaped Frisell’s music, and provides rare insight into the mind and personality of one of the significant musicians of recent decades. Full of live music, revealing stories, and intimate access to the normally reclusive Frisell, various collaborations are followed from development to fruition, including the last ever performance of the Paul Motian Trio with Frisell and Joe Lovano. Also featuring Bonnie Raitt, Hal Willner, Paul Simon, Nels Cline, Joey Baron, Jim Hall, Jason Moran, Mike Gibbs, John Zorn, Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter and John Abercrombie.


Bill Frisell is widely credited as being one of the biggest influences on guitarists and the changing palette of guitar in the last few decades. A unique and masterful musician, prolific composer and bandleader, Grammy Award winner and Downbeat Guitarist of the Year for ten consecutive years, Frisell is recipient of countless accolades from critics and fans from all genres of music and corners of the globe. In a career that has thus far spanned hundreds of albums, with 45 in his own name, Frisell has managed to combine sonic mastery with jazz, country, folk, rock, blues, pop, avant-garde, and more, whilst always maintaining a uniquely identifiable sound.

“Bill Frisell plays the guitar like Miles Davis played the trumpet: in the hands of such radical thinkers, their instruments simply become different animals.”   The New Yorker

This film paints a layered portrait of Frisell’s musical personality, conceptual ideas, and processes to provide not only a deeper understanding of the man, but also a how-and-why of high-level music creation. This is revealed through disarming, direct cinema-style footage of Frisell as he collaborates with a number of other significant artists, including Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, Joey Baron, Mike Gibbs, Jason Moran, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Tony Scherr, Kenny Wollesen, artist Jim Woodring and others. Interwoven with these scenes and music performance is a type of musical investigation, as eminent artists including Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Jim Hall, Nels Cline, Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter and John Zorn identify elements of his character, methods and technique that make Frisell’s playing unique.

Bill Frisell has quietly been the most brilliant and unique voice to come along in jazz guitar since Wes Montgomery. In light of this, it may be easy to overlook the fact that he may also be one of the most promising composers of American music on the current scene.”  Stereophile

Despite having already left an important stamp on music history, Frisell remains an eternal student, constantly self-challenging. Notoriously evasive of the limelight, Frisell is revealed to be a generous character of skill and depth. This film brings with full presence to the screen an anti-archetype of the guitar hero: a revered artist who rejects the conceit of showmanship and celebrity, who is not afraid to admit how much there is to learn, and as such remains relevant on the contemporary landscape, able to play across all genres and sound like a genre unto himself. This film is an important record of one of the significant artists of the late 20th / early 21st century.


Emma Franz began her professional creative life as a jazz singer and composer, and moved into filmmaking inspired by her work and travels in 35 countries. Her first feature film ‘Intangible Asset Number 82’ won Best Foreign Documentary at Durban IFF, an AFI for Best Sound in Documentary, Audience Favourite runner-up at Melbourne IFF and Sao Paulo Mostra, and screened in competition at other prestigious festivals including HotDocs, AFI SIlverdocs, SXSW and Mar Del Plata. She has been invited to speak at such esteemed institutions as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Lincoln Centre and the Museum of the Moving Image New York, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, and the National Sound and Film Archives, Australia. Between freelancing in all roles of filmmaking, she has been writing a book on nonfiction cinema due for publication in 2017. ‘Bill Frisell: A Portrait’ is a truly independent work that Franz single-handedly produced, directed, film and edited in order to get inside, and elucidate through film, the conceptual approach, working methods and character of this renown yet elusive artist who encompasses much that fascinates and excites her about music.


2017 SXSW Film Festival, USA
World Premiere – Documentary Feature Competition