If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd
World Premiere – SXSW – Stateside Theatre, March 14, 2018
Article and Photography by Stacey Lovett
For once at a movie premiere, the director was not the rockstar in the room – southern rock musicians Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington, and Rickey Medlocke of the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd joined Stephen Kijak on the red carpet for his world premiere of If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The documentary delves into a more intimate, personal side of the band exploring their southern roots and featured a great deal of archived material over their 40 years together. Kijak’s intent, along with the members’, is to introduce the breadth and width of the band for the newer generations of fans, those familiar with the songs but not so much the story that formed into their fame.
Watching it felt as if you were looking in on a family reunion; as some members were actually blood relatives it opens up the perspective into how much of a family all of these guys grew to be. This American made southern legend was also self-made – the dedication they had to their music together from an early age and the productivity they put forth in the name of the love for music matched their innate talents. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s surroundings undoubtedly grounded the band as people and places that came into their lives sculpted the dynamics of them greatly. The documentary showed a lot of their hometown landscape; they introduce the Jacksonville cabin they deemed the “hellhouse” where they met and rehearsed, often stayed at, and where the magic ultimately happened.
Skynyrd stood firm in their ideals as a band creating their own methodology in the creation and performance of their music and strictly playing on their terms. They acted in unity with everything they did and as the film gave the viewers a glimpse into each member’s individual personality and opinions, they always came together composed in their roots. The filmmaker featured cameos of people involved in their musical journey –some who the band in attendance admittedly didn’t remember from the later heavy partying years – as well as words from a couple who they’d deeply influenced, easily symbolizing the voice of many more fans worldwide. And sadly so, the most well-known event to have come upon the band was also in discussion –the plane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and 5 other bandmates. The footage, articles, and haunting personal accounts of the tragedy played in a sense of disbelief of the event even 40 years later. Although a somber subject, it is also a formative one to the reason the band plays on.
Johnny Van Zant said following the screening that Lynyrd Skynyrd as a band was dedicated to their dream; they worked hard at it and paid a lot of dues but through it, all were serious about working. He went on to say that the best part of their story being put on film was that they were on the outside looking in – that they were a real band and during their time in the direct spotlight back then they didn’t see it that way, they were just doing it. Adding a last touching remark he bared the fact that the late members were never able to truly see the legacy Skynyrd holds today and he’s glad to see if for them.
If I Leave Here Tomorrow paints a genuine portrait of Lynyrd Skynyrd with approval from the members themselves that night. It acts as a reunion of their feelings of the music and the stories untold and despite the change in the original lineup that created it, it’s the music that lives on – the spirit and the legacy of this bird cannot change.