Drummer Paul Pulvirenti dreams about Elliott Smith’s smile. In particular, the infectious grin the iconic singer-songwriter would shoot him onstage during 1999’s XO tour. In the new Smith documentary, Heaven Adores You, which opens the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival this month, Pulvirenti shares his memory for the first time.
“Paul was having a lot of trouble talking on-camera,” says Kevin Moyer, the film’s Portland-based producer, who arranged many of the 35 interviews that make Heaven Adores You one of the most personal portraits of Smith yet. “We kept the camera rolling. This moment was him and me just talking, and he said this really beautiful thing.”
In the sustained media coverage that has followed Smith’s tragic death in 2003 (some maintain the alleged suicide was foul play), many of his friends and family have remained silent, making biographic works difficult. Enter Nickolas Rossi, a director who started a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 to fund a fan film emphasizing the power of Smith’s music rather than the drama of his demise. Moyer, with deep connections in the Portland music community, signed on to help Rossi and producer Jeremiah Gurzi persuade Smith’s closest contacts to break their silence, including his sister Ashley; Joanna Bolme, his former girlfriend; Tres Shannon, owner of Voodoo Doughnut and former co-owner of the X-Ray Café, one of Smith’s hangouts; and many more.
Moyer also persuaded Smith’s record labels and some of his friends to share 15 unreleased songs. In the documentary, Rossi interweaves Smith’s music with interviews and archival footage of Smith, as well as contemporary footage of the three cities he lived in: Portland, New York, and Los Angeles. “In the spirit of mixtapes, I wanted to make something that would be available to the new crop of fans,” Rossi says. It’s up to the fans to press play.
Read our story "Remembering Elliott Smith" for memories and favorite songs from many of his friends, including director Gus Van Sant, Jackpot Recording Studio owner Larry Crane, and musicians musician Pete Krebs and Jason Lytle.