The Guy Who Made A Documentary About The National Doesn’t Listen To Their Music

Tom Berninger, director of 'Mistaken For Strangers,' prefers metal to his brother's indie rock band, but that doesn't hurt the movie at all. In fact, it helps.

Blood may be thicker than water, but there’s only so far family loyalty will take you. In the case of the Berninger brothers — Matt is the lead singer for successful indie rock band The National, and younger brother Tom shot and directed a documentary while on the road with the band — that loyalty doesn’t necessarily extend to musical tastes. Despite spending eight months on tour with The National and directing the aforementioned documentary, “Mistaken for Strangers,” opening March 28, Tom admits to being more of a metal guy.

“I am a metal — I don’t listen to much indie rock,” Tom admitted in an interview with MTV News, sitting beside brother Matt. “My brother said in an interview, jokingly, that I don’t listen to The National. I really don’t for the most part, but I do and to be quite honest, I think The National are some of my favorite indie rock bands because I just feel like there’s —”

“What are your other favorite indie rock bands?” Matt interjected. “Name one indie rock band in the world. Name one. He has no idea.”

Just because The National isn’t Tom’s taste, however, doesn’t mean the band didn’t, in a way, bring the brothers together. “Mistaken for Strangers” is anything but your typical rock documentary; it would be better described as the story of two siblings, drastically different, getting to know one another as adults. Tom is out of work and down on his luck, while Matt’s star is rising along with The National. In an attempt to get Tom out of his rut, Matt gives him a job as a roadie on the band’s tour and encourages him to bring his camera along. The audience sees Tom, who frequently turns the camera on himself, struggle with the responsibilities of the job and learning to accept that his life is different from his brother’s. Matt gets to meet President Barack Obama at a rally and hilariously placates Tom by telling him that if the opportunity arises again, he’ll make an effort to get Tom in the room. Matt slugs wine before he goes onstage, while Tom is chastised for buying too much booze on the band’s tab.

Eventually, Tom is fired from the tour and retreats to his parents’ home in Cincinnati, and then to Matt’s house in New York (he takes over Matt’s daughter’s playroom for his living and editing space, shown in a hilarious but heartbreaking sequence in which he asks the little girl if he’s going to be a big shot filmmaker and she repeatedly screams “no!” at him). Today, he’s still in Matt’s garage, wondering what’s next.

“It’s kind of sad because it’s been my life the last four years and it’s like what do I do next?” Tom said of the movie’s release. “I mean, I have some ideas. I’m incredibly excited, but there’s also a little bit of sadness.”

“I’m excited for it to come out. I think it’s really beautiful and funny and strange and I’m also anxious for him to move out of our house and get another job,” Matt added.

A lifelong movie buff who aspired to be the next Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi, Tom has decided that there’s a different path for him in the business. The documentary came together through unrepeatable circumstances, at a time when he was “creatively starving to death” and just trying to make a reel out of footage cut together backstage. Another documentary, he said, wouldn’t be the same because it wouldn’t be as personal.

Matt, whose band’s tour is the initial conceit of the film, agreed.

“I think the fact that I’m in a rock band that’s doing well provided kind of a nice setting for something, but as soon as the movie stopped being about that, it started getting interesting,” he said. “The movie isn’t good because of me or the band. You could take the whole band out of it and it would still be a really interesting movie about someone trying to find their creative footing in the world or whatever or just family dynamics.”

That creative footing that Tom found in the course of making the film may next lead him to acting. He says he’d like to take acting lessons and turn the camera on himself in the process.

“I just don’t know the trajectory of how to move on,” Tom said. “It’s such a weird, I don’t have any script that I wrote, I don’t have any other movies in my back pocket to show producers, I just made this thing and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing next. I need a job.”

If the filmmaking thing doesn’t work out, however, he has a plan: “My brother has been nice enough for letting me live in his garage for two and a half years finishing this movie, so now if anybody needs any movers or anything, I’m up for hire. I’m pretty strong, so.”

“Mistaken for Strangers” hits select theaters March 28.