At the SXSW premiere of the Russell Brand documentary—“Brand: A Second Coming”—on Friday night, director Ondi Timoner shed light on why its subject suddenly cancelled his appearances in Austin earlier in the day.
At a Q&A session after the film, Timoner said that Brand struggled with a rough cut of the film he saw. She said that in January, Brand became so uncomfortable with the idea of the film opening SXSW, he tried to block its release at the festival.
Timoner said she turned for help to Janet Pierson, the head of SXSW film, who told her that the festival was founded on the idea of freedom of speech, and reassured her they would show the film.
“Working with Russell Brand was difficult,” Timoner said. “He tried to control every situation … I really wanted to work with Russell and make him happy, but I also needed to protect the film.”
She added: “He doesn’t like to be filmed for a documentary.”
The doc started seven years ago, when Suzie Gilbert approached Brand with the idea (the late Albert Maysles was going to co-direct it with her). Timoner said she that when she boarded the project two years ago, she was the sixth director attached.
She said that before she was involved, Brand tired to direct it himself, and she couldn’t make sense of the footage he showed her. “I was upset the magic wasn’t in the rough cut I saw,” said Timoner, who didn’t previously know about Brand other than as the ex-husband to Katy Perry.
Timoner told Brand that she would direct the film, but she wanted creative control. It wasn’t clear from her answers to fan questions how much control she really had (the film was financed by 21 individuals and not Brand). “There are a couple of things I took out for ethical reasons for Russell,” Timoner conceded.
On Friday morning, Brand released a statement on his Web site about not appearing for his SXSW premiere or panel presentation. “I’m told the film is good, but for me watching it was very uncomfortable,” Brand said in a written post.
Timoner said she didn’t know about Brand’s decision to cancel his visit until earlier in the day.
The Q&A ended with Timoner asking the audience to stand for an ovation. She then took a picture on her phone and said she was going to send it to Brand.