Alex Winter (‘Zappa’ director): Gaining access to Zappa vault changed documentary on musical icon [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

When Alex Winter got access to the Zappa family trust for his documentary “Zappa,” it took his filmmaking journey down a completely unexpected side road. “There was so much material down there and some of it was in danger of disrepair and disintegration,” says Winter in our recent webchat (watch the video above). “We then raised a bunch of money on a crowd-funding campaign and spent the next two years just preserving Zappa archival media.”

“Zappa” is a documentary that seeks to explore Frank Zappa’s journey, not just as a musician but as a human being. Through tons of archival footage, some interviews and the unlimited access to the Zappa vault, which had never been given before, Winter shows how Zappa first became interested in music and eventually rising in fame with his band, The Mothers of Invention. Winter also highlights Zappa’s forays into the political arena as a fighter against censorship in the music industry and as a figure in the newly named Czech Republic.

While he made the most of the unlimited access to the Zappa trust, it was not something that Winter sought to get access to. It came after a meeting with Gail Zappa, Frank’s widow, who had run the Zappa label for a long time. “I think she liked the fact that I didn’t want to make a standard music doc and I think she liked my perspective on Zappa, that he was more of an avant-garde composer than a rock guy, but also someone who was very engaged in the times in which he came up politically and culturally.” That’s when Gail threw him that curveball. “But she said, ‘To tell the story that you want to tell, that isn’t so music driven, you’re going to need access to the vault.’ It was a huge honor and responsibility.”

Winter first became aware of Zappa from hearing about him from his brother as well as his appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” but it wasn’t until after he graduated college that came to appreciate the artist. “With Zappa, what brought me in was the contradictions.” He had thought of Zappa as mainly a rock and roll guy, but after he left college he realized that there was a lot more to the man. “There was all this other stuff going on. He was making classical music, he was doing riffs on jazz, riffs on doo-wop. He’s actually a brilliant avant-garde classical composer.”

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