Film maker Nickolas Rossi had little idea that a tribute video he created following the sudden tragic death of musician Elliott Smith would lead to his now making the documentary Heaven Adores You. Nickolas had lived in Portland, Oregon during Smith’s rise to celebrity in 1997, after being featured on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack and with Smith being a part of Portland’s local music scene. At the time of his death in 2003, both he and Nickolas lived in LA where a memorial was quickly erected, just down the street from Nickolas’ house. Moved by the outpouring of emotions from fans, he shot a video and uploaded it as one of his first to YouTube.
Nickolas, barely 30 at the time of Elliott Smith’s death, was no stranger to mortality. His childhood hero had been killed in an accident and another close friend had faced down cancer; all before the age of 19. By 1995, Nickolas and his generation had already endured the tragic loss of Kurt Cobain but the music of Elliott Smith had been much more personal. During college Nickolas was a social worker in Portland’s youth homeless shelters, a job that meant bearing witness to unbelievable human suffering. Smith’s music made a perfect sound-scape to the long, dark, cold rainy climate with soft, sad compositions and quietly vocalized lyrics that seemingly held little hope but endless beauty. (It could be supposed that Smith’s death inspired Nickolas video series Songs To Play At My Funeral wherein he traveled US and Canada interviewing closes friends about personal death and loss.)
Even as his career took him all over the world Nickolas continued to visit Portland, even teaching documentary film making to at-risk teens during the summer. His Smith tribute video continued getting lots of hits and he often received emails from Smith’s fans with interest in a full scale documentary.
If asked, Nickolas admitted the project called to him in a way like nothing had before. After 3 years of research and nurturing relationships or as he puts it “gathering the trust and the blessings of the family and the contributors such as interviewees and Elliott’s friends” Nickolas finally jumped head first into the project with a successful Kickstarter campaign assisted by the efforts of podcasts like The Bull Pit , Smith fan bloggers, international interests and financial support endorsed by official fan sites.
With seed money for the project and principal shooting underway, “Heaven Adores You” aims to tell the story of Elliott Smith’s influence on a generation of musicians even after his death:
Nickolas says, “What’s really standing out for me is the availability of his music now as opposed to when it was coming out, mostly due to the internet. It’s now possible for his music to reach a much wider audience and and seemingly younger audience, who are continuing to discover him, even 8 or 9 years after his passing. What’s really remarkable about this is that his music is really still as important as it was then, when he was playing shows for his fans. His music is still being celebrated to a whole new generation of kids, and I suspect that he will be a musician that we still talk about 20 years from now. Not bad for a guy who used to record on a 4 track in his basement in rainy Portland!”
Nickolas estimates another 100K is needed to finance the project and has partnered with Fractured Atlas as a fiscal sponsor for investors and donors.