Matt Berninger of The National and his brother, Tom, discuss ‘Mistaken for Strangers’

Matt Berninger of The National (left) and his younger brother Tom.
Matt Berninger of The National (left) and his younger brother Tom.

“Mistaken for Strangers” is not a typical documentary about the band The National. This is not the indie-rock version of Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” film.

Instead it’s a story of family, brotherly love, aspiration and how one filmmaker found himself through a camera lens.

Matt Berninger of The National invited his younger brother of almost a decade, Tom, to join the band’s global tour. He was a roadie, but Tom prefers the term ‘crew.’

Tom tags along with the band, moonlighting as a flippant videographer and acts very much like an annoying little brother. He drinks a lot and turns the camera on himself then drunkenly films the sleeping band members. He films the band members in some very private moments and asks bizarre questions such as “Do you bring your wallet and ID on stage?”

Matt said he never expected Tom to create a full-length documentary. The band was hoping for some fun, back-stage videos they could throw on band’s website.

Tom filmed the documentary primarily with one hand-held camera. There are occasional videos taken by iPhones at the live shows, providing a very real, raw look at life on the road.

It wasn’t until Tom turned the camera on himself that they realized that more than the band’s tour Tom was the actual story.

“Mistaken for Strangers” is a coming of age tale in which Matt and Tom rediscover their brotherly bond.

“We’ve become closer,” Tom says. “We look at each other just saying ‘we did it.’”

The film opened the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, but that doesn’t mean Tom’s moment in the sun came easy.

“Most of success isn’t about luck and isn’t about having a gift or talent,” Matt says. “90 percent is perseverance. You’ll fail far more than you’ll ever succeed. If you fail enough one of those times will lead to small bits of success and eventually you keep stacking up those bits of success.”

Given Tribeca’s audience, Tom is aware aspiring filmmakers might watch his directorial debut. To them, he says, “find any angle and do it yourself. The way you think you’re going to break into the industry is not the way you will. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Just try to make the best movie you can.”

Matt provided Tom with the opportunity to step out of his rock-star brother’s shadow. Matt’s patience turned out to be the fuel to Tom’s passion.

“If there’s something you really want to do and you’re passionate, the passion is the first step,” Matt says. “It’s the persistence and also learning to be patient with a project and yourself.”

Follow Mary Ann Georgantopoulos on Twitter @marygeorgant


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