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Turn the Clock Back to 2004 with Ondi Timoner’s “DIG! XX”

photo by Donyale West/Shutterstock for Sundance

By Bailey Pennick

As Ondi Timoner walks back up to the front of the Library Center Theatre with the swagger of a rock star, the crowd goes wild with late-night woos and screams. “Could you tell the difference between the new and the old?” she asks. The audience proves their worth to the director with even louder claps and yelps. 

This level of confidence and call-and-response crowd work isn’t normally associated with the Sundance Film Festival, which is best known for breaking new names in cinematic storytelling. But the premiere of DIG! XX isn’t just any Festival premiere, it’s a homecoming for Timoner’s debut film, which originally premiered as DIG! 20 years ago and won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. As part of the Festival’s 40th Edition Celebration, Timoner is back with a newly remastered, remixed, and extended cut of the iconic film.

DIG! XX tells the intertwining stories of two indie-rock bands — The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre — in the 1990s. Like two sides of the same coin, the film follows both bands through their ups (mostly for the Dandies) and downs (almost always BJM), but mostly it’s seen through the volatile friendship between the two frontmen: Courtney Taylor and Anton Newcombe.

Watching the film now, you’re struck by the truly unfathomable amount of access Timoner had to these bands — with some of the interviews even being done while the subject tidies up her coke lines on the table. “You see nobody gave them any money for this, no grants, no nothing,” explains Dandy Warhols’ Zia McCabe during the post-premiere Q&A. “No one was like, ‘Hey we want you to follow around these two nobodies that will probably be broken up in two years because they’re all so nuts!’”

Timoner just did it because she believed in the potential of these bands. “I don’t think we knew where it was going at all,” recalls David Timoner, the film’s editor and Ondi’s brother. “It was like having a tiger by the tail.” Exciting, dangerous, violent, and beautiful, DiG! is a film that morphs with the viewer every time you view it because at every new point in your life you relate to these people and their struggles differently. Seeing DIG! as a music-loving teenager is very different from watching DIG! XX as an adult with a job and a mortgage (if you’re lucky), and that’s what makes it essential. She’s captured the raw energy of being a passionate artist and the challenges, internal and external, that come with that.

Or, to put it more succinctly: “There’s such a spirit in this film,” Timoner says. “It’s all of our twenties. Here it is!”