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'Mistaken for Strangers': The National get a documentary

by Jacob Margolis | Take Two®

Filmmaker Tom Berninger (left) and singer Matt Berninger of The National pose before Reel to Reel: Mistaken for Strangers at The GRAMMY Museum on July 18, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage) Mark Sullivan

Trailer: Mistaken for Strangers

"Have you ever woken up in a nightmare on a bus because of the movement?" Tom Berninger asks his brother Matt, the lead singer of the indie band The National.

Matt responds, "Do you have a notebook with the questions written down? Do you have any kind of organization and plan for this film?"

The film that he's talking about, and where the above interaction comes from, is a documentary about the band called "Mistaken for Strangers." It was filmed by Tom, who went on tour with Matt a couple of years ago. The thing is that the entire time he was shooting the documentary, Tom was supposed to be working as a roadie for the band. 

And Tom doesn't have any experience shooting documentaries so the things he focuses on at the time may seem inane. He's shooting absolutely everything and people on staff get frustrated at him for shooting footage instead of doing his real job, being a roadie.

While Tom didn't have any real job prospects before the tour, he has even fewer prospects once he gets fired for shirking his roadie duties. And that leaves him sort of aimlessly wandering through life.

"I was... slightly relieved because it was just tiring to be constantly being yelled at, but I was disappointed because it was my paycheck. Also because I had to face hours and hours of footage that I had no idea what I was going to do with. So I was kind of putting that off... I was like keep me on tour just so I don't have to look at this mess of a movie I have. Or at that point I didn't even know it was a movie..."

And it's after the firing that Tom did some reflecting. It's also when the documentary started to take shape. It became more than about the band. It became an examination of Tom's life in the shadow of his rock star brother. 

"...ultimately maybe it was good that he wasn't prepared in the traditional sense because it led to something interesting I think," said Matt.

The final product covers everything from the difficulties of being on the road for a long time to what it's like to be a young person trying to discover himself while in his older brother's shadow.

And while the footage seems disorganized at first, Tom walked away with plenty of special candid moments from the band according to Matt, "We weren't playing the roles of indie rock guys trying to sound interesting in interviews. We were just... talking to my brother."

How does it feel for Tom now that the documentary's brought him some recognition?

"Obviously it feels awesome and I had gained a lot of confidence from this movie. And the fact that people are relating to my story and feeling emotionally connected to our story, that's great."

There's a screening of the documentary, as well as a show with The National, at the Shrine Auditorium on March 25.

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