Nirvana Film Director Brett Morgen Sets The Record Straight: “It’s A Kurt Cobain Documentary”

"The hope would be to take it to Sundance in 2014 and release it theatrically around the anniversary of his death."
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Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Even more than 20 years after the release of Nirvana’s groundbreaking 1991 album Nevermind, the ongoing fervor surrounding the legendary Seattle band since the death of lead singer Kurt Cobain keeps them and their music as contemporary (and popular) as ever.

When a recent item in the New York Post’s infamous Page Six column mentioned that Brett Morgen, the documentary filmmaker presently promoting his HBO Rolling Stones’ film Crossfire Hurricane was looking forward to his next project, a documentary on the life of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, news outlets rushed to breathlessly report on the proposed movie.

“It’s amazing how credible magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin can publish stories citing Page Six,” groused Morgen during a recent exclusive interview with CBS Local. “The Page Six piece that came out yesterday had a lot of factually incorrect information. The reporter on the red carpet the other night asked me if Courtney Love was involved, and I simply said that Courtney was the person who brought me into this process seven years ago. The next thing I know, I read ‘Courtney Love: Spearheading Documentary,’ which hasn’t been determined. I’ve been working with the estate.”  

Morgen was quick to clear the air and set the record straight regarding the proposed documentary, and Love’s involvement in the project.

“I was promoting my last documentary, Chicago Ten… right after that, I got a call from this company that was working with Courtney and wanted to get us together to talk about a Cobain film,” Morgen explained. “It took years and years and years to go through lawyers. Finally, about 18 months ago, there was a little more clarity as far as who is doing what with the Cobain estate. That helped. But then I got tied up on this project (Crossfire Hurricane).

“I always felt, even in 2007, that you should time the Cobain film with the 20th anniversary of Nevermind or the 20th anniversary of his passing,” Morgen continued. “Well, we missed Nevermind, and it started to look like we were never going to make this film. It would be awkward to put this out the year after the 20th anniversary (of his passing), so I thought we had to get started now or it’s never gonna happen. But the timing has worked out really well and everything seems to be coming together, including the financing. And it looks like we’re on track to start putting it together relatively soon. The hope would be to take it to Sundance in 2014 and release it theatrically around the anniversary of his death.” 

While the erroneous reports stressed that the documentary would chronicle the band, Morgen clarified that its primary focus is on Nirvana’s legendary leader.

“I’m not sure, it’s not a Nirvana documentary per se, but that will certainly be a huge part of it,” Morgen said when asked if Cobain’s former bandmates Dave Grohl or Krist Novaselic would be involved.

“It’s a Kurt Cobain documentary. I have not talked to those two. I deal almost exclusively with the estate and the publishers. And I’m not sure yet if it’s going to involve interviews with other people, I’m sort of piecing it together now. The one thing I can say, from what I know, everybody who knew Kurt is very protective of Kurt,” Morgen said. “And I think that at the end of the day, while there may be disagreement here and there, everyone has his best interests at heart. There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around the camp, they know it’s not going to be a run of the mill documentary.”

Given the abundance of previously unreleased Rolling Stones footage Morgen was given access to when making Crossfire Hurricane, he was asked if Nirvana fans can expect similarly rare and unseen material when his Cobain doc is released.

“Courtney has an archivist in Los Angeles. When I was first brought in, I went to her house, she showed me a bunch of home movies that have never been seen, walked me through a bunch of stuff that they kept in their vaults,” Morgen related. “A lot of that stuff they used in the coffee table book [Journals],” he added, referencing the 2002 collection of original Cobain writings and drawings. “There are still treasures to be had and I know that they’re in the process of going through some more material.  

“The goals for all this stuff is that you want to give the hardcore fans something new, a reason to go see the thing,” Morgen said finally, “and at the same time, Kurt passed away nearly 20 years ago, so there’s a generation out there that doesn’t really know him, and who I think will be excited to be able to experience his story.”

Bruce Pavitt, co-owner of Nirvana’s original record label Sub Pop, recently released an e-book, Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe 1989, filled with previously unseen pictures from the band’s fateful European tour that year.

–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local

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