Songwriter Guy Clark in 1972 | Credit: Marshall Fallwell | Without Getting Killed or Caught. Director: Tamara Saviano, Paul Whitfield
Songwriter Guy Clark in 1972 | Credit: Marshall Fallwell | Without Getting Killed or Caught. Director: Tamara Saviano, Paul Whitfield

Filmmakers Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield will world premiere “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” their remarkable documentary film about the complicated relationship among legendary songwriters Guy Clark, Susanna Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and the art it inspired, at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

“Without Getting Killed or Caught” features narration by Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek (as Susanna Clark) as well as interviews with Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Jo Harvey Allen, Terry Allen and Verlon Thompson, along with archival soundbites, photos and vintage footage.

“Without Getting Killed or Caught” follows Guy Clark, Susanna Clark and Townes Van Zandt on their journey from obscurity to reverence. The film makes use of Clark’s songs, family photographs and archives, vintage film footage and radio talk shows to tell its story: Guy, the “Pancho” to Van Zandt’s “Lefty,” struggles to establish himself as the Dylan Thomas of American music; Susanna pens hit songs and paints album covers for top artists; and Townes spirals in self-destruction after writing some of Americana music’s most enduring and influential ballads. The real emotional zing comes from Susanna’s pained remembrances, culled from her private journals and secret audio diaries, as well as taped conversations that Susanna made of the trio and of the “salon” that regularly gathered around them – all serving as witnesses to this seemingly fated intersection of love, art and tragedy.

Based on the diaries of Susanna Clark and Saviano’s 2016 book, “Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark,” which No Depression called “an intimate, affectionate, sometimes sad, often hilarious, and vibrant chronicle of one of our most memorable artists,” the film tells the saga from Susanna’s point of view.

“Guy and I were friends for 18 years and spent the last eight of those years working together on his biography and then the documentary,” said the filmmaker Tamara Saviano. “It is bittersweet that after all of that, Guy did not survive to see this documentary come to fruition. It is an honor to continue to work on his legacy. I hope the documentary will give fans new insights into the extraordinary artistic life Guy shared with his wife Susanna and best friend Townes Van Zandt.

Guy Clark, who died in 2016, wrote and recorded unforgettable songs (“L.A. Freeway,” “Desperados Waiting for a Train”) for more than forty years. His lyrics and melodies paint indelible portraits of the people, places and experiences that shaped him – and no one inspired Guy more than his wife, painter and songwriter Susanna Talley Clark, and their best friend, fellow songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

In early December, Saviano and Whitfield recorded Sissy Spacek’s narration in Austin, Texas, and Whitfield spent the rest of the month laying in the voice track and making last-minute tweaks to wrap the film at the end of 2019. Now the pair will premiere the 95-minute documentary, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, while also looking for a distributor.

Saviano, a longtime figure on the Americana scene, as journalist, artist manager, and Grammy-winning producer, wrote the film with Austin entrepreneur Bart Knaggs. She had the complete cooperation of Clark, who sat for numerous interviews on and off camera. “Without Getting Killed or Caught” (the title comes from “L.A. Freeway”) also offers poignant reflections from Clark’s closest friends and musical allies, most prominently Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Verlon Thompson and Terry and Jo Harvey Allen, as well as record executive Barry Poss.

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