Documentary Premieres welcomes back Sundance alum Alex Gibney with his latest film: FINDING FELA, the story of the legendary Nigerian musician and political activist.
Sundance Program Description:
No individual better embodies African music of the 1970s and ’80s—and its pivotal role in postcolonial political activism—than Fela Kuti. After quickly taking his native Nigeria by storm, the pioneering musician’s confrontational Afrobeat sound soon spread throughout the continent and beyond, even as it made determined enemies of the repressive Nigerian military regime. As a result of continued persecution, increasingly unorthodox behavior, and, eventually, complications due to HIV, Kuti’s final years saw his musical output and influence wane.
Within the past decade, a resurgence of interest in his work has posthumously repopularized Kuti, culminating in the massively successful Broadway show FELA!, written by Jim Lewis and directed by Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones. Academy Award–winning director Alex Gibney interweaves the show’s skillful staging with a treasure trove of period interviews and hypnotic performances to recapture the essence of the man, his music, and his enduring cultural and political relevance.
The prolific Gibney has regularly screened work at Sundance, including last year’s WE STEAL SECRETS, MAGIC TRIP (2011), CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (2010), GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR HUNTER S THOMPSON (2008), and ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (2005). He also produced or executive produced alums HISTORY OF THE EAGLES PART ONE (2013), LOVE COMES LATELY (2008), NO END IN SIGHT (2007), WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? (2006), and THE BLUES (2003). Joining him as producer is Jack Gulick, who has produced scores of music docs, with Sundance alum Alison Ellwood (director, EAGLES; co-director, MAGIC TRIP; producer/editor CASINO JACK, GONZO, and ENRON) serving as co-producer. The backers of the stage musical FELA!, commodities trader Stephen Hendel and theatre producer Ruth Hendel, serve here as executive producers. The film’s editor, Lindy Jankura, had various editing credits for past Gibney Sundance titles MAGIC TRIP, CASINO JACK, and GONZO, while cinematographer Maryse Alberti counts among her credits nearly twenty previous Sundance titles, most recently WE STEAL SECRETS, EAGLES, and WEST OF MEMPHIS (2012), and was the winner of two past Sundance cinematography awards, for CRUMB (1995) and H-2 WORKER (1990).
Why You Should Watch:
As noted in my program description above, Gibney has access to both riveting historical footage of Kuti in performance and of the cast of Bill T Jones’ and Jim Lewis’ popular and energetic staging to tell the influential and charismatic figure’s story. Like fellow 2014 Sundance title CONCERNING VIOLENCE, the film captures the geopolitical tumult in a continent shaking off the yoke of European colonization. Gibney effectively conveys the political and social power of the radical ideas Kuti espoused in his legendary compound, the Kalakuta Republic – consciousness-raising Afrocentric, anti-imperialist beliefs that promoted human rights and traditional African practices like polygamy and criticized religious, corporate, and governmental exploitation of his people – making the performer’s iconic status clear both to uninitiated audiences and to those already well-versed in Nigeria’s history.
For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page. As they become available, I’ll link to Gibney’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to his Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
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