Soundtrack For A Revolution revisits the story of the American civil rights movement from the 50's and 60's, 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, as 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 recounts 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 southern freedom bus riders, 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 less than in-depth 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, ended up on the "shortlist" this year for documentary feature Oscar nominations (15 films are shortlisted and only five are selected for the official nomination). It didn't make the cut, which is a shame, as it's certainly worthy. Co-director Guttentag, who attended the screening I saw of the film last week at the monthly Doc Soup documentary series and, in addition to his aforementioned Oscar win has also won an additional Oscar, been nominated for three more, won a Peabody Award, and also won three Emmys, was disappointed, but said he's been very happy overall with the response to the movie. The crowd at the packed Bloor Cinema gave him a standing ovation at the film's conclusion, which my brother (who has seen numerous screenings at the Doc Soup series and Hot Docs festivals) tells me is very rare.
View the Soundtrack For A Revolution trailer: