2015 Sundance Docs in Focus: WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?

what happened miss simoneThis year’s Documentary Premieres profiles wrap with Liz Garbus’ return to Park City, screening as a Day One film: WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?, a biographical portrait of the influential performer and activist.

Sundance Program Description:

A classically trained musical genius, chart-topping chanteuse, and Black Power icon, Nina Simone is one of the most influential, beloved, provocative, and least understood artists of our time. On stage, she was known for utterly free, rapturous performances, earning her the epithet “High Priestess of Soul.” But amid the violent, day-to-day fight for civil rights, she struggled to reconcile artistic ambition with her fierce devotion to a movement. Director Liz Garbus sensitively explores the constant state of opposition that trapped and tortured Simone – as a classical pianist pigeonholed in jazz, as a professional boxed in by family life, as a black woman in racist America – and in so doing, reveals a towering figure transcending categorization and her times. The film stays true to Simone’s subjectivity by mining never-before-heard tapes, rare archival footage, and interviews with close friends and family. Charting Simone’s musical inventiveness alongside the arc of her Jim Crow childhood, defining role in the Civil Rights Movement, arrival at Carnegie Hall, self-imposed exile in Liberia, and solitary life in France, this astonishingly intimate yet epic portrait becomes a non-fiction musical – lush tracks and riveting story resonating inextricably.

Some Background:
Director/producer Liz Garbus is a Sundance alumna several times over, most recently as the director of BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD (2011) and SHOUTING FIRE: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF FREE SPEECH (2009), and as the producer of FAMILY AFFAIR (2010). Producer Amy Hobby’s previous Park City credits include LOVE, LUDLOW (2005), LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN (2004), SECRETARY (2002), THIRTEEN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING (2002), HAMLET (2000), and NADJA (1995); while Justin Wilkes previously produced or executive produced WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V JAMES J BULGER (2014), UNDER AFRICAN SKIES (2012), and CRUDE (2009); and this is Jayson Jackson’s first project. Executive producers include Sidney Beaumont, who served in the same role on WHITEY; Jon Kamen, whose past Sundance films include WHITEY, UNDER AFRICAN SKIES, CRUDE, and METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER; Netflix’s Lisa Nishimura and Adam Del Deo, executive producers for MITT (2014) and THE SQUARE (2013); and Broadway performer Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina Simone’s daughter. The project’s editor, Joshua L Pearson, also cut Sundance alums WHITEY and UNDER AFRICAN SKIES.

Why You Should Watch:
Garbus’ past projects have positioned her well to tell Simone’s story, most notably her tribute to another iconic performer, Marilyn Monroe, in LOVE, MARILYN. The singer’s fans will be awed by the fantastic archival material Garbus has unearthed, while the unconverted will soon be brought into the fold when confronted with the breadth of her craft and her involvement in the fight for equality.

More Info:
For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page. Check out Garbus’ Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2015 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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