There’s bound to be much local buzz today at the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival for the new film about Sly Stone — the multi-talented performer and songwriter raised as Sylvester Stewart in Vallejo — and his charismatic band, the Family Stone, born in a basement in San Francisco’s Ingleside district.
But Willem Alkema, the Dutch director of “Coming Back for More,” knew little about Sly before the early 1990s, a quarter-century after the Family Stone busted out of the Bay Area and went on to win national and international fame and fortune with a string of funky, danceable hits.
It was the infectious agony of Stone’s “Can’t Strain My Brain” — released in 1974 after drugs and unreliability had done away with much of the Family Stone and its signature sound — that helped Alkema muster through the loss of his younger brother.
From that time on, Alkema was on a mission to seek out Sly’s whereabouts, a riddle haunting many former fans.
In 2002, having shifted his career from musician to movie maker, Alkema decided to film his search.
He engaged an investigator in Southern California — where Sly was reportedly hiding out in a Beverly Hills mansion — and closer by he connected with a pair of Sly-obsessed twins in The Hague: Arno and Edwin Konings.
Like Alkema in their early 30s, they were assembling a detailed year-by-year written account of the lives of Sly and his bandmates, to be titled “Thank You,” after one of the Family Stone’s funkiest hits — “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” — from 1969-70.
The Konings bolstered Alkema’s efforts with historical facts, footage and memorabilia, signed on as co-producers, and accompanied him in January 2007 to Sly’s gig at the House of Blues in Anaheim, a year after his brief, bizarre appearance on the 2006 Grammys and almost two decades since his last public performance.
But it wasn’t till the summer of 2009 that Sly, at odds with his predatory ex-manager Jerry Goldstein and sequestered in a modest motel near the Los Angeles airport, agreed to a full-on filmed interview.
“I’d heard the stories about this man who was really difficult and did crazy stuff,” the director says. “But what I met was a nice, friendly guy who was very open, and brought pizzas to me.”
Previously titled “Dance to the Music” after the Family Stone’s first big 1968 hit, the documentary is now called “Coming Back for More,” named for a tune unreleased by Sly during his long hiatus, and for Alkema’s take on the 67-year-old Sly’s persistence in making music, even while he continues to struggle legally with ex-manager Goldstein and personally with his own habits and eccentricities.
The second of the two screenings at the Roxie Theater is likely to attract several nearby Family Stone band members and others involved in Sly’s Bay Area beginnings.
Jeff Kaliss is the author of “I Want to Take You Higher: The Life and Times of Sly & the Family Stone.”
If you go
Starring Sly Stone
Written and directed by Willem Alkema
Running time 1 hour 14 minutes
Note: The film screens at 7:15 p.m. today and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., San Francisco, as part of SF Indie’s Docfest. Visit www.sfindie.com.