Five whole years ago, we reported that a filmmaker named Chad Stockfleth was raising money for a documentary about the Elephant 6 music collective—a loose association of musical acts including The Olivia Tremor Control, Apples In Stereo, Elf Power, and Neutral Milk Hotel. The documentary was called A Place We Have Been To at the time, and Stockfleth had already been working on it for several years, but now that film has resurfaced under a different name and with an… appropriately unique distribution model. Those E6 bands are all known for doing things their own way, so it makes perfect sense that the documentary would also do things a little differently, but this is a whole new kind of doing things a different way.
As reported by The Outline (via Pitchfork), the film—now dubbed A Future History Of: The Elephant 6 Recording Co.—is only available in select cities, specifically Chicago, Atlanta, Athens, New York, Portland, Louisville, Denver, and Los Angeles (and possibly some others), but you won’t catch it at regular screenings. Instead, the documentary is only on VHS tapes that you have to rent, and the only way to find out how to rent them is by finding a special flyer promoting the film and calling a phone number to request a copy. Once you get it (and see its one-of-a-kind handmade cover art), you’ll also receive a library-style card for you to sign and stick in the box, as well as a handful of your own flyers to hang up (so it’ll be easier for other people to track down a copy).
E6 co-founder Robert Schneider is friends with Stockfleth, and he says the filmmaker was able to get surprisingly open access to important E6 figures because he’s not actually an obsessive E6 “super fan.” As someone without many preconceived notions of the collective, he was able to get people to talk about their lifelong friends and tell stories of how they all started making music together. Regarding the weird VHS club system, Schneider says it makes the whole thing feel “more like art,” and that instead of just making a documentary about the collective, he used E6 “to make his own collage art to express something much bigger than that.”
It is, in other words, very much in keeping with the silly and heartfelt spirit of Elephant 6. A Future History Of features interviews with Bill Doss (who died in 2012), Will Cullen Hart, Kevin Barnes (of the E6-adjacent Of Montreal), Scott Spillane, Laura Carter, Julian Koster, Rebecca Cole, and “at least a dozen others,” as well some famous fans like Elijah Wood, David Cross, and Danger Mouse. The notable absence there is legendary Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum, who was not interviewed for the film but “appears throughout.”
The documentary is apparently available now, and you can see it for yourself… if you’re lucky? We guess? Just start going to hip coffee shops and record stores and you’ll probably find a flyer eventually. (Everyone involved seems to be pretending that the internet won’t immediately ruin this weird/wacky scheme, so we will as well.)