Q&A: Director Tom Donahue on Recreating a Legend in ‘Davi’s Way’

DAVI’S WAY follows legendary character actor and singer Robert Davi—known for his portrayal of the Bond villain in LICENSE TO KILL—and his quest to honor friend and hero Frank Sinatra. To celebrate the beloved crooner’s 100th birthday, he hopes to meticulously recreate the “Main Event,” Sinatra’s historic 1974 concert at Madison Square Garden. With only a year until the anniversary, Davi and his lovable assistant frantically get to work on the preparations. Chronicling the unpredictable and often humorous nature of planning such an event, this comedic and poignant documentary plays like a real-life mix of Curb Your Enthusiasm and THIS IS SPINAL TAP.


Robert Davi is a character actor who has appeared in over 100 movies and TV shows, including GOONIES and SHOWGIRLS. He’s also a singer and a diehard Sinatra fanatic. Were you aware of his work?

Tom Donahue: Yes. Robert’s visage has been embedded in my brain since my growing up in the eighties.

How did you meet Robert Davi? At what point did you decide to come on board his wild quest to recreate Sinatra’s Main Event concert?

Tom Donahue: We were approached by Danny Abekaser about doing a documentary that followed Robert Davi as he put on a 100th birthday tribute to his idol, Frank Sinatra. My producer Ilan Arboleda and I had already met Robert when we interviewed him for my film CASTING BY, so we knew how magnetic and knowledgeable he was. We instantly took to the idea of following Robert on this journey, having absolutely no idea where it would lead. And it went in poignant and comedic directions we never could have imagined. We were blessed with some great, larger than life characters.

You follow Davi through the highs and lows of producing a major event. How similar were the obstacles he faced to the ones you encountered in making the film?

Tom Donahue: Robert is a big and sometimes difficult personality. He went almost always in unexpected directions. Many times, my job felt like surfing a giant wave in stormy seas and trying to ride it perilously to shore. By the third act, I’m sure Robert felt the same! And by the climax, we were both just holding on for dear life!


Our programming team describes DAVI’S WAY as “a real-life mix of Curb Your Enthusiasm and THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Was that the tone you were going for? Any films you can cite as inspiration?

Tom Donahue: I thought that was a funny comparison. That was not necessarily what I was going for when we started, but it didn’t take long to see that we had something special here, that we had a great cast of larger than life characters, and that there was humor in the way they collided with each other. I would cite the films of the seventies. Like some films of that era, we were given money and the freedom to go in any direction the story took us. That was a true gift!

What would you like HIFF audiences to take away from DAVI’S WAY?

Tom Donahue: Every time we screen this film, the audience laughs out loud throughout. It is certainly entertaining, but it’s also bittersweet and more than a little uncomfortable. I do hope audiences find this very musical film fun, but that they will also see a little bit of themselves reflected in Robert’s struggles and in his hopes and dreams.


Can you give us a tease? What’s one of your favorite moments in the film?

Tom Donahue: There is a very tense moment in the film between Robert and another character that occurs in the third act. We were not expecting the confrontation that erupted just after the cameras started rolling, but maybe we should have—nerves were frayed and things had reached a boiling point. The scene reveals much about our subjects, but also about the power of the documentary process. Watch for it!

We can’t wait for your World Premiere. What are you most looking forward to at HIFF 2016?

Tom Donahue: I’m looking forward to seeing the finished film with the Hamptons audience and the Q&A that will follow among me, Robert and my producers. Robert and I have not watched the film together with an audience. This should be interesting. The ride continues!

Check out the World Premiere of DAVI’S WAY in the World Cinema Documentary section of HIFF 2016. Find tickets.