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Mistaken for Strangers

Montreal Premiere
  • USA
  • 2013
  • 80 mins
  • HD
  • English
Hosted by Director Tom Berninger and Producer Craig Charland

Opening Film, Tribeca 2013
Official Selection, Hot Docs 2013

There’s little worse than living in some else’s shadow. Take for example Tom Berninger, a carefree dude in his thirties living at his parents’ place. An amateur filmmaker, he likes to party with the metal cranked to 11. Tom has neither job nor girlfriend, exactly unlike his brother Matt, married with kids and frontman of the National, the immensely popular New York indie rock band. Following the resounding success of their album “High Violet” in 2010, Matt invites Tom to tag along on their world tour with the purpose of making a documentary on the band. Such an endeavour should have allowed the two brothers to bond and to work past the tensions that have existed between them form so many years. But in the spirit of a National song, the results are catastrophic. Throughout this voyage around the globe, Tom drops the ball over and over, going AWOL at any moment and displaying an utter lack of professionalism. His presence amid the group quickly gets on the tour team’s nerves, and they voice their frustrations that this roadie is learning nothing and getting worse by the day. The tour soon enough starts to seem like a ship on a collision course with an iceberg — a disaster foretold that Tom has transformed into an exultant feature film!

“Shall I turn out to be the hero of my own life, or shall that station be held by anybody else?” That question care of Charles Dickens neatly sums up the spirit of MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS, an extraordinary piece of cinema verite that captures like no other film the complex ties between siblings. Instead of making a conventional concert-tour movie, Tom Berninger puts us front row backstage, presenting the National as they truly are. Hiss camera catches moments of unvarnished veracity in an agitated and uncompromising succession, giving a true sense of tagging along with Matt Berninger and his band day to day as they go through their highs and lows. And then there’s Tom himself, the irresistibly charismatic loser, whose self-inflicted screw-ups will leave you in stitches time and again. Thanks to his surprising mastery of the medium, the poignant MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS is 2013’s answer to D.A. Pennebaker’s DON’T LOOK BACK.

Fantasia 2013 - Mistaken for Strangers from Fantasia Film Festival on Vimeo.

— Simon Laperrière