Soundtrack for a Revolution

Soundtrack for a Revolution
Editor’s Note: Doc Soup is a monthly doc­u­ment­ary screen­ing pro­gramme run by the good folks at Hot Docs. It gives audi­ences in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver their reg­u­lar doc fix each year from the fall through to the spring, lead­ing up to the Hot Docs fest­ival itself.

Also, with this post we wel­come a new voice to Toronto Screen Shots. Drew Kerr is the brother of reg­u­lar con­trib­utor Jay Kerr and will be help­ing with our 2010 Hot Docs cov­er­age and hope­fully bey­ond.

Soundtrack for a Revolution (Directors: Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman): Soundtrack For A Revolution revis­its the story of the American civil rights move­ment from the 50s and 60s, cov­er­ing famil­iar ter­rit­ory, but adding the fresh ele­ment of hav­ing music from the era per­formed by mostly con­tem­por­ary artists. One look at the roster of acts (not­ably Joss Stone, John Legend, The Roots, Angie Stone, and Wyclef Jean) imme­di­ately gave me reser­va­tions, since I’m not much of a fan of today’s r&b music. I found most of the per­form­ances, how­ever, to be enter­tain­ing and mov­ing. The goal of dir­ect­ors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman (who both won an Oscar in 2003 for their doc­u­ment­ary short Twin Towers) was to use these acts as a gate­way for a younger audi­ence into learn­ing about the story behind this import­ant time in American his­tory.

The musical per­form­ances, as strong as many of them are, end up tak­ing a back seat to the com­pel­ling mod­ern day inter­views with the people who were dir­ectly involved, the “foot sol­diers and lead­ers.” Prominent fig­ures such as Congressman John Lewis, Julian Bond, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Harry Belafonte all offer their recol­lec­tions of the exper­i­ences they endured, cov­er­ing sig­ni­fic­ant peri­ods and moments in the move­ment such as the lunch counter sit-ins, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus strike in Alabama, the Freedom Riders who tried to integ­rate long-dis­tance bus travel in the South, the 1963 March on Washington, and the assas­sin­a­tion and funeral of Martin Luther King. The inter­views are inter­cut with still images and archival foot­age, some of it restored spe­cific­ally for the film and every bit as dis­turb­ing and shock­ing today as the first time you saw it, provid­ing a power­ful, if some­what brief sum­ma­tion of the time. The film clocks in at only 82 minutes and a healthy por­tion is used for the music, so only so much can be covered. Only a brief descrip­tion of the back­ground on some of the songs is given, so they’re really given their own voice through the per­form­ances. The songs are mostly free­dom songs that evolved from slave chants and the black church, provid­ing a vital func­tion in uni­fy­ing the oppressed as they stood up to their oppress­ors. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, “We Shall Not Be Moved”, “Eyes On The Prize”, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”, and “We Shall Overcome” are just some of the num­bers that are fea­tured in the film.

The doc­u­ment­ary, which was also exec­ut­ive pro­duced by actor Danny Glover, was short­l­is­ted this year for the doc­u­ment­ary fea­ture Oscar nom­in­a­tions (15 films are short­l­is­ted and only five are selec­ted for the offi­cial nom­in­a­tion). It didn’t make the final cut, which is a shame, because it’s cer­tainly worthy.

Official site of the film

9/10(8/10)

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