Goldfine and Geller reveal the story behind “Hallelujah”

MORELIA, Mexico (AP) — Whether it’s the Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley or “Shrek” version, the song “Hallelujah” has been heard by millions of people around the world, even though it was close to being forgotten. Documentarians Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller present their remarkable story in the film “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song.”

Apparently they didn’t choose the song, the song chose them when a friend forced them to see Cohen on the long tour that the Canadian singer-songwriter took towards the end of his life.

“A very dear friend bought us tickets, took us across the bridge from San Francisco to Oakland to see Leonard. For me, moment zero was when Leonard knelt down and began to sing that song,” Goldfine said in a recent conversation held at the Morelia International Film Festival, where the documentary received a standing ovation at its premiere in Mexico.

About five years after that concert, a friend asked you a question, had you ever thought of making a documentary about a song? At first they thought it would be pretty boring, but then they remembered Cohen in that powerful performance and went online the next day to learn more about it.

They discovered that the song, included on their 1984 “Various Positions” album, had been rejected by their label even though it had already been recorded. But then he had had a kind of resurrection in the voice of Cohen, Buckley and in movies like “Shrek”, Marvel’s “Whatchmen” and multiple singing competitions. Not only that, there was an entire book dedicated to her by Alan Light.

“He told us that other producers had approached him with the intention of adapting his book and there have been three reasons why they have given up. The first is that he was very sure that Leonard would not give an interview, the second that he was sure that Sony Music would not give them the rights to that song for a price that would make an independent film possible and the third that everyone thought that it would be too boring in the end,” Goldfine recalled.

Faced with this scenario, Goldfine and Geller decided not to be daunted and began by seeking the approval of Cohen himself, which they obtained. But with the death of the singer-songwriter, at the age of 82, in November 2016, the possibility of interviewing him was completely ruled out.

“It made us reconceptualize the film,” Goldfine noted. “We decided that since we couldn’t interview him, we were going to make a movie where we were going to travel with Leonard from the moment he told the world that he was a composer, as well as being a poet.”

So the musician’s archives and old interviews became his best tool, to the point that it feels like Cohen himself speaks the entire film. Over time they also managed to gain the trust of Robert B. Kory, who was Cohen’s manager at the time of his death and became the executor of his estate. Kory gave them access to Cohen’s journals written during the seven-year process of creating Hallelujah, which has given rise to the myth that there are between 150 and 180 verses of the Hallelujah. song.

“They’re amazing,” Geller said. “The five notebooks that we looked at, which include the writing of ‘Hallelluyah’ and other things, we looked at them and it was a privilege.”

To overcome the second difficulty, to obtain the rights to the song to include it in the film, they relied on music supervisor Rachel Fox, who has worked on films such as “Killing Them Softly” (“Kill them softly”) and “Blonde” (” Blonde”) to convince executives at Sony Music Publishing.

“It took us 18 months of negotiations,” Geller said. “We decided we couldn’t risk starting filming without having that publishing deal.”

Once again they overcame this difficulty, so they only had the vertigo of the possible reception that the public would have with a film dedicated to a song. They were convinced that they had much more on their hands.

“We thought that any subject, if approached with enough creativity and love, determination and time, it took us three years to edit this, could be interesting,” Goldfine said.

“We knew we didn’t want to just make a movie about the writing and release of the song, we knew that because the song addresses so much of Leonard’s own struggles like spirituality, moments of pain, connections, sex, everything, that would be the excuse. perfect for reviewing Leonard’s path through life, his spiritual quest, and the song becomes a window into his life,” added Geller.

The film includes interviews with singer-songwriter Judy Collins, the first musician to sing on stage with Cohen, actress Nancy Bacal, who was friends with the musician, and journalist Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who also contributed his own interviews with Cohen conducted earlier this year. over many years. There are also appearances by John Cale, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, KD Lang and many other musicians who have performed the song.

After passing through the Telluride and Venice festivals in 2021, the film is about to arrive at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival next weekend. It is expected to be released in theaters in Latin America and eventually they hope to take it to a streaming platform.

Just as it took Cohen seven years to write this song, it took Goldfine and Geller seven years to put the documentary together.

“As independent filmmakers, while we usually don’t have the funds and it’s hard to make a movie, one thing we do have … is time,” Geller said. “Time allows things to happen on camera over the years.”

“Our sense of time changed … I deeply understood the concept of a broken hallelujah,” Goldfine added.

Goldfine and Geller reveal the story behind “Hallelujah”