The untold story of Santa Rosa Beach resident and musician Duke Bardwell is now being shared through a new documentary film, Duke & The King. Quickly gaining audience acclaim, the recently released documentary will screen at the 30A Songwriters Festival on Saturday, Jan. 19 and Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.
Part documentary and part concert film, Duke & The King tells the story of one of the great, unheralded talents in American music. Bardwell’s story demonstrates what can happen when the right words and music come together to alter destiny and, in doing so, offer a shot at redemption.
The film made its world premiere earlier this year at the Nashville Film Festival, was screened to a packed house at Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival in August, and won “Favorite Feature” at the recent SoAl Film Festival in Mobile.
“It’s very gratifying to see and experience how audiences react to Duke’s story,” says Kris Wheeler, the film’s co-director. “The response has been great, but it’s been a long time coming. We actually started the project back in 2006.”
Duke & The King, Wheeler’s second featurelength documentary, reveals a powerful story of the danger in meeting one’s hero, especially if your hero becomes your boss and your boss happens to be the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“This is a story that is ultimately about the power of songwriting,” says Wheeler. “Screening Duke & The King in the environment of the Songwriters Festival is a dream scenario. We’re honored that the festival is showcasing the film.”
Wheeler shared directing chores with Wayne Franklin, and the filmmakers say Duke & The King also makes the case that Bardwell’s time with Elvis Presley ultimately derailed the career of a man many believe should have been a star in his own right.
“Over the years, we’ve come across a lot of loose theories and mumblings about a rift between Duke and his famous boss,” says Franklin. “This film sorts out what’s true and what’s not.”
There is much more to this story than Bardwell’s tumultuous relationship with the Presley organization. At its heart, the film explores the gift of songwriting and the power of music to shape lives. With moving stories and inspiring live performances from Bardwell recorded at the famed WorkPlay Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama, the documentary chronicles Bardwell’s journey while showcasing his immense talent. A soundtrack recording, You & I, was released to great acclaim last winter.
“I got the idea for this film back in 2005,” says Wheeler. “It started out being a story about the journey of a song. But in time, it grew into something bigger—a film that was transformed through various iterations over the years before finally evolving into Duke & The King. We’re eager to share Duke’s story and his gifts as a singer-songwriter with music lovers the world over. After 45 years, he’s due.”
The film also features appearances by Kenny Loggins, Tom Rush and New Orleans legend “Big” Luther Kent, along with Walton County songwriters Franko “Washboard” Jackson and Bill Garrett. Both 30A Songwriters Festival screenings will be followed by Q&A with the filmmakers and Bardwell.