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Sundance 2023: ‘It’s Only Life After All’- Film Review

Jan 24, 2023

Sundance 2023

Premiere Selection

“It’s Only Life After All”

Reflecting on their decades-long music career, Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) are front and center in director Alexandria Bombach’s documentary “It’s Only Life After All”; a film that traces the duo’s trajectory as musicians, activists, and groundbreakers.

For 40-plus years, the iconic pair defied male critics and rose as symbols (not by their design!) to generations. Their songs spoke to everyone through their honesty, strength, and vulnerability.

Their combined stories are the definition of kismet. Two queer females in Georgia (who first met in elementary school) felt like outcasts and took solace in songwriting and music. Eventually the two became like sisters (They want everyone to know they never dated), traveling a career of songs that inspired listeners of all ages.

Through talent and perseverance, Indigo Girls made it hard to be pigeonholed by male critics.

For some, Indigo Girls were too Folk to be Rock. For others they were too Rock to be Folk. As Emily says to Bryant Gumbel in a television clip, their music is “A little less contained.”

To fans, they were everything and the personal impact of their songs was deeply felt.

The documentary has a friend in Amy Ray’s self-confessed compulsion with filming everything through much of their career. Bombach and the audience are gifted with decades worth of golden video memories chronicling their path through music, and of course, everything is set to their words and music.

Bombach wisely lets her subjects tell their story. Many modern documentaries resort to animated re-enactments to give their films a visual flair. For this film, the director has confidence that her subjects are always interesting and that their stories are important and will resonate with many.

Ray and Saliers lay it all out without censoring themselves, at this point in their career what would be the point.

Ray is open about her issues with anger and feelings of insecurity regarding Saliers’ songwriting, which Ray felt to be much better than her own.

Saliers is honest about her battle with alcoholism (brought on by the widespread homophobia and ridicule that nearly sidelined their careers) and the pushback she received when stating how she is queer but still sexually attracted to men.

Both women speak in length about pushing back against the heteronormative sexualization of women in the music industry. The chaos of their early career and public derision (including by some critics) found the two at odds about whether to fully come out.

The two eventually did come out to the public, yet still found some in the media continually wanting the story to be told again and again. Again, everyone needs a label.

Indigo Girls identify how they wish, and they don’t care how they are perceived. As Emily says, “What it really is about is just living and accepting who we are, completely.”

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are singer-songwriters, Queer icons, Folk singers, Rock&Rollers, Activists, and that is just scratching the surface. The story of Indigo Girls is the story of so many.

Spending time with Indigo Girls, be it in a concert setting or as a viewer of Alexandria Bombach’s informative documentary, is like spending time with old friends.

At one point, Amy Ray says, “There’s a magic in what we do.”

As Alexandria Bombach’s “It’s Only Life After All” proves, the magic continues.

 

It’s Only Life After All

Directed by Alexandria Bombach

Starring Indigo Girls- Amy Ray & Emily Saliers

NR, 123 Minutes, Chicken and Egg Pictures

 

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