Films: Never Make It Home

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Never Make It Home

Never Make It Home

USA, 2011, 76 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Documentary, Medical/Health, Music
Program: Documentary Films
Language: English

DIRECTOR: GJ Echternkamp
Editor: Will Becton
Cinematographer: G. J. Echternkamp
Principal Cast: Kirk Rundstrom

Never Make it Home pays homage to underground songwriter-guitarist Kirk Rundstrom, whose passion for music carried him past a death sentence to the greatest performance of his life. His wildly popular Witchita, Kansas–based band, Split Lip Rayfield, wielded guitars, mandolins, banjos, and a bass made from an old gas tank to play to the adoring fans of their four albums; describing his individualistic style of bluegrass as “all-acoustic, scorched-earth slamgrass,” Kirk played just as strenuously to all the stereotypes of the impulsive, rebellious rock star. He drank too much, took drugs, and lived on the road—a lifestyle that ended his marriage to wife Lisa, with whom he had two daughters.

In 2006, he booked the band for over 100 shows across the heartland—but severe back pain took him to doctors in Colorado, who found cancer in the lymph nodes around his heart and a tumor in his throat. Kirk was given a diagnosis of esophageal cancer—and two months to live. Instead of undergoing chemotherapy, he decided to get back to doing what he loved with the people he loved. It was time for the Final Tour, he said: “To stop playing is to start dying.”

Never Make it Home was originally intended as a concert film, but eight months into filming, Kirk’s diagnosis changed director G. J. Echternkamp’s plans. Although it still features the band’s electrifying music, the documentary also takes the audience along with Kirk, his reunited family, and the band as he loses himself one last time in the music. Intimate interviews with the band on the road, backstage, onstage, and at home reveal that Kirk made the right decision.

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