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"I tell you, it is not really about what he taught me and what I taught him. It is about what we were both taught by the people that we met." — Bono, on his 2002 trip to Africa with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill

U2 'over the moon' with new doc

Toronto Sun

Director Davis Guggenheim spent less than six months making TIFF's opening night film, From the Sky Down, the documentary about U2 revisiting their pivotal 1991 album, Achtung Baby, as they prepared to play it live at their first ever Glastonbury gig this past summer.

Guggenheim also only spent half a year on his Academy Award-winning 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming.

"It's definitely do-able and sometimes when the magic is there you can do it," said Guggenheim, 47, from his office in California. "But it's very difficult and you're sprinting the entire time to get it done."

In fact, Guggenheim -- who has three children in real life with actress Elisabeth Shue -- only delivered a finished version of the film to Toronto last Wednesday.

"And that was really the moment when we could collapse and look at each other in disbelief that we'd actually finished."

He showed U2 his cut of the documentary in late July in New York and reports: "They were over the moon. They loved it. They said from the beginning, we want you to make the movie that you want to make and they let me the movie I wanted to make. It was pretty astounding. I think part of it is the trust we gained doing It Might Get Loud, they sort of let me have a free hand."

Guggenheim, who previously directed U2 guitarist The Edge, along with Jimmy Page and Jack White, in the 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud, says it was a simple phone call that got him involved in From the Sky Down.

"It was such a good experience for both of us (him and The Edge), the conversation just continued. And when I heard they were considering doing a movie about Achtung Baby, I got very excited. It's a very seminal moment in their life as a band. Just before it was their highest high (the success of The Joshua Tree) and during it was their lowest low (Rattle and Hum's documentary/CD backlash) and out of that came their most profound reinvention."

In addition to bringing U2 back to Berlin's Hansa Studios, where they recorded Achtung Baby with producers Brian Eno and Canadian Daniel Lanois -- who also did the documentary's original music with Toronto's Michael Brook -- Guggenheim also filmed the band in Winnipeg's Burton Cummings Theatre as they rehearsed for Glastonbury.

"It was fun to go up there. And the theatre we filmed in was beautiful. And sounded incredible. The band was just raving about how that room sounded."

In Santiago, Chile, Guggenheim also did individual "sound-only" interviews with the band members that provide much of the documentary's narration, and wound up getting some of the movie's most poignant information about The Edge's first marriage failing and how making Achtung Baby became a welcome distraction.

"That's the heart of the film when you hear them talking about the story," said Guggenheim. "That became the sort of emotional and sort of structural backbone of the movie."

Guggenheim also mined archival footage, stills and recordings from the Achtung Baby sessions and never before seen scenes from the film dailies of Rattle and Hum and struck gold.

"We found these scenes of the band during that tumultuous time," said Guggenheim. "Like Bono having a fit in the dressing room or them performing in a blues club."

When From the Sky Down makes its TIFF debut Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall, it becomes the first documentary to ever open the festival.

Guggenheim, who also directed the 2010 documentary, Waiting for Superman, is thrilled.

"It's a huge honour. It's really my favourite city to premiere a movie."

Post-TIFF, From the Sky Down will debut on Showtime in the U.S. on Oct. 29 and will be included on the 20th anniversary re-release of Achtung Baby slated for Nov. 1 before it gets its own Blu-ray/DVD release.

"U2 is so different from everybody else," said Guggenheim, who is doing a 1:30 p.m. chat with Bono and The Edge on Friday afternoon at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

"They really are special. Even though they are mega rockstars, there's a conscientiousness and connectedness and a thoughtfulness about each member of the band. So I wouldn't put them in the same bunch as other rockstars."

© Toronto Sun/Canoe Network, 2011.