Director Brett Morgen: "This is just my experience with the materials." Libby Denkmann

HBO’s new documentary about Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck, premiered in Seattle last night at Cinerama. I’m still sorting out how I feel about it, but it certainly stirs up a lot of emotions. (You can read Emily Nokes’s review here, and Sean Nelson’s interview with Morgen here.) Director Brett Morgen, on hand for the event, acknowledged this fact before the screening: He said he had spent the past several months showing the movie around the world, but he knew the screening in Seattle was especially important. He admitted that he didn’t know Cobain personally, as many in the audience likely did, and that he’d like to hear their thoughts during the Q&A directly after the screening. Be careful what you wish for.

The post-film Q&A with EMP Senior Curator Jacob McMurray could have been a typical polite snoozer. But the audience had different ideas. After Morgen said he wasn’t able to use all the source material at his disposal, including one very long interview with Cobain, a man in the audience shouted something I couldn’t quite hear, but Morgen’s response (something to the effect of, “I couldn’t get everything in, man”) made it clear that it was a pointed, specific criticism. The floodgates opened. Another guy (or the same guy? It was hard to tell) said he had to leave the theater and basically couldn’t watch the film (although he returned for the Q&A).

Then a woman shouted her displeasure that the documentary was all “from Courtney [Love]’s point of view.” As Morgen began to defend himself, the woman said she knew both Kurt and Courtney, and reiterated her point. (Love is one of just six people—including Kurt’s mother, sister, father, and stepmother, and Krist Novoselic—interviewed in the documentary, but she isn’t introduced until well into the film.) Morgen said he was shocked anyone would say such a thing because all the interviews were inserted after he had basically already put the film together. Morgen’s response: “The film is from my point of view…. This is just my experience with the materials.”

It was definitely not the glowing reception HBO execs were probably hoping for in Seattle. But Morgen handled it all quite well and seemed open to the feedback. Although McMurray tried to bring the discussion back into polite territory, Morgen stopped him. “I think we had a thing about we weren’t supposed to take questions, like, to protect me,” Morgen said, “but fuck that. Anyone who wants to ask a question, just ask a question. I’m pretty confident in the point of view of this film.”

The rest of Morgen’s interaction with the audience was fairly benign by comparison: Morgen discussed why Cobain’s mother and sister weren’t happy with the end result, due to the depiction of Cobain’s heroin use, and why he didn’t include Dave Grohl (partially due to scheduling issues). Although at one point Morgen again defended the film by saying Cobain’s daughter, Frances, loves it and has watched it six times as a counterpoint to the guy in the audience who said he couldn’t sit through it (but then Morgen quickly apologized for making it personal). Knowing everyone was soon headed to an after-party at the EMP Museum, the director tried to smooth things over.

“I know this can get a little heavy and all that, but there’s so much Kurt in that film that’s worth celebrating,” he said. “Are we gonna go party now?

Montage of Heck debuts on HBO on Monday, May 4 at 9 p.m. and opens theatrically in Seattle today at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on Capitol Hill.