Director finds Music's healing power

03/24/2011 09:34 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It took the Dead to bring Jim Kohlberg's film to life.

The Grateful Dead, that is - and Bob Dylan. When they agreed to allow their songs to be used at an affordable price for the soundtrack of Kohlberg's directorial debut, The Music Never Stopped, the film suddenly found its footing.

"When I first read the script and the music that the writers wanted to use, I thought, 'This will never get made in a low-budget context'," says Kohlberg, who had worked as a producer for more than a decade. "But we sent the script to Dylan and the Dead - and, miraculously, they came back and said they'd like to do it on terms we could afford.

"Once they were on board, the film had so much credibility that we could move forward. It's been my experience in independent film that the things that get made create their own momentum. And this one did."

Based on an essay by Oliver Sacks, The Music Never Stopped, which opened in limited release March 18 and goes wider on April 1, is the dramatization of the story of a young man, estranged from his parents by the social upheaval of the 1960s, who returns to them in the mid-1980s. But a brain tumor has robbed him of his memory - or, more accurately, the ability to create new memories. Nearly catatonic, he comes out of his living stupor at the sound of the music of his youth. That allows his father to develop a bond with his son through the shared appreciation of the records of the Grateful Dead, the Beatles and others.

The script had actually been around for a dozen years when it came to Kohlberg, who had been working as a producer of independent films (Two Family House, Runaway, Trumbo). A novelist and theatrical director as well, Kohlberg had been thinking about directing a film of his own and found himself drawn to the story.

"I was really interested in brain science, and I loved the idea of the music, though it would have this great soundtrack I never thought I could get," he says. "But it was this great story of a family broken up and brought back together by music.

"And what I've learned with independent film is that, if you aren't going to have $100 million of effects, then the story-telling has to be about a change that comes to someone or something. If you don't have material that people are going to be passionate about, then you've got nothing to hook them with. People get passionate about a good story that moves."