Wildflowers, released in 1994, was Tom Petty’s fastest-selling album. It went triple platinum in just nine months and became the album Petty cited as his best. And considering the personal turmoil Petty went through during the making of Wildflowers, its success speaks to the power of the artistic process.
A process documentarian Mary Wharton mines in great detail for Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free. Constructed mostly from never-before-seen 16mm footage shot by Martyn Atkins in 1994, Somewhere You Feel Free is an insider look at the writing and recording of Wildflowers, with a few additional interviews, primarily with producer Rick Rubin. Wharton bolsters Atkins footage with contemporary interviews of Rubin and a few Petty bandmates reflecting on the Wildflowers sessions.
For Petty fans, Somewhere You Feel Free will play like catnip: A skeleton key to an iconic album. For non-Petty fans, there is little here that offers conversion. Like the music of Wildflowers, there’s no real urgency at work, just expression. Wharton’s interviews—presented in grainy black and white to match Atkins’ 16mm footage—are equally unhurried. A little bit would have help.
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.