Danny at the studio recording one of his tracks


With seventy hours of footage it was quite a challenge to condense American Songwriter into a sixty- minute documentary. “What I know from working around my father all those years was that a film is made in the cutting room and it’s about what you do with those pieces when you put it together. It was particularly challenging to keep it moving as Danny talks… real… slowly…” says Altman mimicking the singer’s drawn out drawl. It’s certainly been a fruitful odd couple collaboration, one that over an exhaustive two and a half years has produced the stage production Exit 10, two soundtrack albums, (with a third on its way), an independent feature and now this documentary.
“I’ve always loved Danny’s music and been a huge fan – I consider him of the same calibre as Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and McCartney and always thought it was a shame no one recorded his stuff, but he’s such a humble person and hard to corner. He’d play a song and you’d turn around and he’d be 300 miles down the road. I just wanted to document this creative guy who’s led a tough life but is such a fabulous storyteller and certainly one of the best songwriters I’ve ever been around. To be up close and personal with him would be kind of like hanging out with Bob Dylan – except nobody knows who he is.”

American Songwriter Documentary Digital Download

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Michael Altman's, American Songwriter is a kaleidoscopic musical road trip down a million mile highway of poetry, philosophy and life featuring Nashville hit songwriter, Danny Darst. Altman's American Songwriter traverses the bedrock and backbone of Darst's gritty lay it on the line storytelling style as one of Americana's most talented song-smiths. From sea to shining sea, hundreds of songs and stories, sixty years of boot leather and worn out steering wheels, American Songwriter draws you into Darst's struggles growing up poor, how he discovered who he was and found redemption through the love of a good woman. It is the tale of an authentic American man.
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Deep Running And A Joy To Watch…IndigoGoat
I had the good fortune 2 months ago of seeing American Songwriter at the Park City Film Music Festival where it won the Best Music Documentary category. The film is a beautifully shot and briskly edited tour across mid America with Danny Darst at the wheel. Darst, a contemporary of Willie, Waylon and the boys, has written chart topping hits for John Anderson (Black Sheep of the Family), Joe Stampley (Roll on Big Mama) and many more along with TV themes and film music. His film work brought him into contact with the filmmaker, Robert Altman, and a decades long friendship took root. Darst would drop by Altman’s sets– on location, in the city, out in the desert– entertaining cast and crew till the wee hours, then disappearing again as stealthily as he’d arrived. These forays into the Altman family circle made a strong impression on Robert’s son, Michael, who knew first hand the power of Darst’s music and voice and felt frustrated knowing that, while Nashville had happily recorded his music, America’s music city had failed to record the man himself. A few years back, Michael set out to remedy the situation, producing 2 CD’s with Danny back in Nashville: Danny Darst (songs from EXIT 10 the play) and Danny Darst – American Songwriter. According to Michael, the film grew up out of an effort to create music videos to promote the CD’s. These projects took on a life of their own, however, as the very private Darts gradually opened up on camera telling gripping early life tales of growing up poor, losing loved ones at an early age and pitching songs in Nashville between cross country truck driving runs. Altman’s camera follows Darst from coast to coast– back roads, back stage and on stage, singing songs, telling stories around camp fires– giving us a sense not only of the artist’s road dog professional life, but of the power of the voice and guitar that captured Michael’s imagination and heart decades ago. American Songwriter is a deep running music documentary, an ode to family and friendship and a joy to watch.

Documentary About the Philosophy, Life, and Music of Nashville Songwriter Danny Darst…Nat Kasiloff
In American Songwriter, filmmaker Michael Altman has created a layered, complex portrait of gritty American songwriter, Danny Darst. It’s part road movie, part coming of age story, part visual poetry, and all American music. Darst’s lyrics are haunting and authentic; my favorite song was the nostalgic “Never the Same.” “The Great Escape” is a close second. Sequences in the recording studio (with Darst working with some AMAZING musicians) are interwoven with his philosophical musings, life stories, and images of the back roads and highways of America. It’s always interesting to have a window into a creative person’s mind — to try to understand how and why the creative magic happens. In this case, the audience gets to experience Darst’s creativity as songwriter, poet, and performer, as well as the creativity of the filmmakers. (And here’s a shout out to the editor — excellent work!) If you get a chance to see American Songwriter, go see it! You’ll leave wanting to see the film again and wanting to seek out Darst’s music.

Micxing A Song with the Producer "Snake"

It Is Instantly Clear That Fame or No fame, Darst Is A Legend…ReelGA
Director Michael Altman matter-of-factly states that Danny Darst resides in the same class as Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. Seeing as Darst and Waits have both ricocheted back and forth between music and film (even starring together in “Short Cuts”), the Waits parallels are much more firm than those with Cohen. Nonetheless, I would have to agree. Unfortunately, most people simply have not heard of Danny Darst.

“American Songwriter” is at once both a long form music video and a biographical documentary. The film’s mosaic structure tells a large story in tiny pieces; propelled at different times by a song lyric, a fire-lit performance, a stroll down Nashville’s Broadway or an interview conducted from the passenger side of Darst’s 1950s Oldsmobile. It is instantly clear that, fame or no fame, Darst is a legend. A guitar is the tap to his maple tree and stories just pour out of this man. His complete lack of attention grabbing only adds to his appeal. He is the Dos Equis man, except more interesting and with a wardrobe seemingly comprised completely of weathered denim. The sunglasses permanently fixed on his intransigent face make him appear imposing, only to have his occasional laugh completely disarm you.

In between some of the more travel-centric portions of the film, we learn about Darst’s arrival in Nashville and his break into the industry as an acclaimed songwriter. The trucker mentality he so naturally possessed provided a new voice on the scene.

“A songwriter is a potential timebomb because he can roll-in in shirtsleeves, sleeping in a dumpster, throw a song out there and six weeks later, they are writing him huge checks.”

His ‘breathe, think and don’t stop’ philosophy allowed his career to quickly progress, carrying him across the country; an endless routine between Nashville, Los Angeles and New York City.

Robert Altman had many frequent collaborators, Darst counted among them. His first foray into the film industry was as a songwriter, but it only made sense for filmmakers to see that someone as talented and colorful as Darst shouldn’t have any trouble acting. Weaving his way through the catalogues of both Altman and Jonathan Demme throughout the 1980s and 90s, Darst quietly built a sturdy film résumé. While we can be thankful that his film work was responsible for his friendship with the Altman family, his true calling was always songwriting. In recent years, Robert Altman’s son Michael and Darst have continued to build on their friendship with a solid business partnership.

The film is no technical marvel, but possesses everything it needs to get the job done. Some less-than-perfect sound editing makes it a little difficult to shift your focus between Darst’s monologue and song vocals, but they are both telling the same story in the end. A passion project between the two friends, the film’s goal of spreading the word about Darst’s boundless talent is met without obstacle. The accomplishment could further be measured by the countless new fans created at each new screening.

Awesome Film…A Great Story About A Great Storyteller By A Great Storyteller…KMorang
I had the privilege to see American Songwriter at the Rome International Film Festival just recently and I was strongly moved by the story that was told. It really is a tale of two storytellers. Danny Darst, the quintessential American Songwriter/storyteller whose music has long been recorIded and made famous by others, finally telling his own story for one, and Michael Altman who has the eye for the big picture and the patience to see a project through is the other. This film is about passion and about honesty even when those two ideals cost a man a great deal. It is also about the big payoff which is not always about seeing your own name up in lights but perhaps passing on to your children that amazing opportunity that is our American story. Besides seeing a great film I also had the distinct pleasure to meet both Danny and Michael at the festival and it is impossible not to be both impressed and enamored with their story and the honesty with which they approach their craft. You really owe it to yourself to see this film and feel the passion that was put into it from the git-go.