SXSW 2018: If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd. Photo Credit: Emerson-Loew

If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd tells the story of the band through recent and archived interview footage.

From “Free Bird” to “Sweet Home Alabama,” and beyond, the rare interviews and never-before-seen archive materials tell the story of the band that found their way from Jacksonville, Fla. to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Ala.  Beyond the songs, there is a pivotal moment in the band’s history that, while emotional, must be discussed: the 1977 airplane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines.

Gary Rossington is the last founding member still playing with the band so it’s natural that he serves as the film’s narrator in a way.  It’s a way for him to offer his thoughts and memories.  Rossington is joined by Johnny Van Zant on a tour through some of important sites of their history.  The younger Van Zant had replaced his late brother when the band reformed in 1987.

Through both current and archive footage, there’s some fun band trivia.  They were originally named One Percent but it wasn’t until 1969 in which they settled on the name that has stood the test of time.  If not for Blood, Sweat, & Tears’ Al Kooper signing the band to his Sounds of the South label, there’s no telling what kind of future the band would have.  Their biggest break came when they opened up for The Who at Kooper’s suggestion.

“Free Bird” was supposed to be “a simple little love song” but it went on to become one of their most legendary songs.  Thanks to the solo from Allen Collins, the song could have lasted anywhere from six to twenty minutes in length.

Another important topic that gets discussed is the band’s use of the Confederate flag as a part of their stage shows.  It’s highly controversial and that goes without saying.  Rossington recognizes the hatred that the flag represents but acknowledges that they just wanted to play southern music.

“We never ever one time meant for the Confederate flag to hurt anyone,” Rossington comments in the film.

It wouldn’t be a complete story without telling the history behind the band’s response to Neil Young in “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Young had released “Southern Man” and “Alabama.”  Interestingly enough, Young appears in a film that also screens at SXSW.

It’s a fascinating documentary as far as musicians are concerned although a running time of 94 minutes might be on the short side.

The release of If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd comes as the band previously announced the Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour starting in May 2018.

DIRECTOR:  Stephen Kijak
FEATURING:  Ronnie Van Zant (archive), Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, Ed King, Artimus Pyle, Al Kooper, Judy Van Zant, Leslie Hawkins, Brantley Gilbert, Devon Gilfillian, JoJo Billingsley (archive), Bob Burns (archive), Allen Collins (archive), Steve Gaines (archive), Cassie Gaines (archive), Billy Powell (archive), Dean Kilpatrick (archive), Leon Wilkeson (archive)

An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd premieres as part of the 24 Beats Per Second program.  The film is expected to premiere on CMT in 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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