For over 25 years, Emmy-award winning directors/producers Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine have jointly created multi-character documentary narratives that use the personal stories of their protagonists to paint a larger portrait of the human experience. They are especially known for meticulous archival research, which made works such as “Ballets Russes” (2005) and “Isadora Duncan: Movement from the Soul” (1988) so extraordinary. “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” explores the life of the legendary singer-songwriter through the prism of his internationally renowned song, “Hallelujah.” Dogwoof is the international sales agent for the Venice-bowing doc.
What inspired you to take on this topic?
It was a combination of things. We’d seen Leonard Cohen twice when he came through the Bay Area during his world tours in 2010 and 2013 and were deeply moved by those concerts, and especially by his performances of “Hallelujah.” Then one night over dinner, our friend, film historian David Thomson, asked if we’d ever considered making a documentary about a song. That planted the seed and “Hallelujah” was the first and only song that came to mind both because of its unique complexity and because of our love for Leonard Cohen.
How many years have you been working on the film?
It’s been almost exactly seven years from that dinner table conversation. We do tend to go the deep dive route with our subjects, so we’ve been living pretty fully in the Leonard Cohen/“Hallelujah” realm since then.
How were you able to convince Leonard Cohen to participate in the film?
It was surprisingly straightforward, much more so than we ever expected. The first thing we discovered in our research was Alan Light’s book, “The Holy or the Broken,” which vividly recounts “Hallelujah’s” unusual trajectory from record-label reject to internationally beloved hymn. At Alan’s suggestion we wrote to Leonard through his manager, Robert Kory. Robert gave our note and some of our past films to Leonard, who looked at the work, liked our described approach to the film and approved the project within a week. Another key to this quick approval was that Leonard loved Alan’s book. Then, crucial to our ability to continue the project even after Leonard’s death, was the fact that he had personally sanctioned it.
How many hours of footage did you have before creating the final edit?
In the end we collected well over 100 hours of archival footage and audio plus another 60 or 70 hours of original interview material, and yes, there are incredible things that ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor.
The material came from many places. Larry “Ratso” Sloman shared his amazing tapes with us and each of the other interviewees had their own archival collection to go along with their memories. We love diving deep into the past in search of hidden gems that tend to be scattered and the world. Dayna took the lead on this one along with our assistant editor Tomaso Semenzato. The research began as soon as Leonard said he was open to the project and really never stopped until about a month before we locked picture.
What’s next for you two?
We’re in discussions with people, particularly around another music topic, but mum’s the word for now.