"I can't seem to shake musicians," confesses Paula Angeli with a laugh, at the beginning of Frank Ferraro's documentary, Wine and Dust: A Rock and Roll Love Story. "Honestly," she continues, "it's a good thing. Just as long as they don't do it for a living, I'm all right."
With this, Ferraro gently lowers us into the deep end of foundering rock-star dreams and broken promises. Through interviews with more than 20 Pittsburgh-based subjects, Wine and Dust investigates the tension that often exists between artists and the people that love them — in this case, between aging male musicians and their wives and girlfriends. (Ferraro had hoped to include more female musicians, but couldn't find anyone willing to discuss their relationships so publicly. "The men," he speculates, "will do anything to draw attention to themselves.")
Ferraro, a former sculptor, turned to filmmaking when Parkinson's disease forced him to pursue new means of expression. The idea for Wine and Dust came to him when John Vento — a local musician who appears in the film, and who served as executive producer — mentioned some problems he'd been having with his girlfriend.
"I wanted to [explore] the idea of finding a balance between love of music and love of family," Ferraro says. "A lot of these men downplay their intense love of music. They say what their parents taught them to say about putting family first, but you have to be selfish to achieve success."
Tabloid stories of dysfunctional rock-star relationships are common, but Ferraro avoided including more than a few recognizable names. "I didn't want people to get distracted by fame," he explains. Norman Nardini is one of the more notable subjects; Ed Jonnet of the Neid's Hotel Band is featured, as is former Silencer Mike Pella.
Ferraro presents his subjects with a clear eye, eliciting moving responses without veering into the exploitive. Shot on MiniDV tape —"I wanted VHS quality because that's the era these guys grew up in" — there's a visual softness, adding to the film's lyrical pacing and tone. With reserved narrative guidance (and no voiceover narration) Ferraro allows his subjects to speak for themselves.