University of Michigan alum Michael Rubenstone will premiere his first documentary, “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone” at the Freep Film Festival April 1 in Detroit.
The documentary follows Rubenstone’s 12-year search for funk legend Sly Stone, frontman of the band Sly and the Family Stone, which gained popularity in the 1960s. In 2010, the band was ranked 43rd on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All-Time” and has been noted for its unique multi-racial, multi-gendered make-up.
In an interview with MLive, Rubenstone noted the relevance of the band’s unique sound during such a tumultuous decade.
“Particularly in their earlier recordings — like ‘You Can Make It If You Try,’ ‘Sing a Simple Song,’ ‘Everyday People’ — they sort of espoused this holistic paradigm,” he said. “They were everyday people, Black and white, male and female, all contributing to an incredible sound during a very, very turbulent era.”
Rubenstone graduated from the University in 1999 with a degree in theater. He later explained to the Daily he began filmmaking after moving to Los Angeles as a way to find fulfillment in his career, while maintaining his passion and love for acting.
“I got into filmmaking by accident, really,” he wrote in an email interview. “I moved out to LA from New York to continue my career as an actor. I was able to get some work, but found it very unfulfilling. This project gave me more control of my career. I could always work on a cut, develop the script, seek out another interview. That was very rewarding. I still act. I still love it. But somehow I got my big break as a director. Go figure. Strange how things work sometimes, but you have to be open to changing paths in this business.”
Rubenstone noted how the artist’s music has influenced him since high school, and how he wanted to locate Stone after the artist disappeared from the music world. According to Rubenstone, what began as a few inquiries around the city quickly transformed into more than a decade-long project.
“When I saw the Woodstock documentary in high school, I was blown away by Sly’s performance,” he said. “When I moved out to LA to pursue my career as an actor, it occurred to me that Sly was also in LA, and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could track him down. So I picked up a camera and started making little inquiries around LA. That’s essentially how it started. Twelve years later, I finally got it done.”
Rubenstone said his film’s director of the Freep Film Festival sought out “On the Sly” due to his affinity for the artist, as well as Rubenstone’s position as an alum.
“I am honored to return to Michigan and share this film with some friends from college,” he said. “Steve Byrne, the director of the Freep Festival, sought out the film not only because he was a Sly fan, but also because I was a Wolverine. It’s great that this festival pays tribute to the fascinating history of Detroit, Michigan, but also gives a nod to some Alums.”