Hello and welcome! As a entertainment journalist in Vancouver, Canada, I am extremely lucky to be able to attend many film festivals in the area, including the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. What you can expect of this articles series is reviews of the films at those festivals! Kicking this off is this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, a 16 day extravaganza of films from across the world. Without any further ado, here’s Day 1 of the festival and the three films I saw: “Finding Fela,” “52 Tuesdays” and “Before The Last Curtain Falls.”
VIFF 2014: Finding Fela
Hits you emotionally even if you had no idea who Fela Kuti is.
Director: Alex Gibney
Featuring: Fela Kuti, Questlove, Bill T. Jones
Production Company: Jigsaw Productions
Duration: 119 Mins
Reviewed By Alessandro Hutt
For the most part we here in North America take music for granted. We listen to the latest pop hit, let it ingrain itself into our brain with it’s 3 minutes of bubbly sugar and then move onto the next questionably offensive song. If we do generate large-scale discussion about a song or artist it most likely centers on their views on female sexuality. Sometimes we let those same singers get away with far too much *cough Chris Brown cough*. Sure we listen to Bob Marley, but when he first made his way into the North American culture he was presented as a family man who sang songs like “Could You Be Loved.” We didn’t get the songs crying for revolution while toting a gun (until later).
Sure other countries have their own teenyboppers and sugar coated pop groups but they also have their own Los Aldeanos – a rap group of two Cuban brothers who could be killed because their music calls out the government. Such is the case with Fela Kuti, a Nigerian afrobeat musician who railed against the military regime and corrupt government in his country. Despite his fame and wealth he lived in the ghettos of Lagos, making music that directly targeted the military.
Gibney gives us a glimpse into the mind and life of this mysterious but inspiring man. His own voice is provided through archive footage (he died in 1997 from AIDS complications), while collaborators and musicians affected by him also weigh in. All the while, a play about Kuti’s life directed by Bill T. Jones is being formulated. This is one of those documentaries that sticks with you even after you’ve seen it more than once.
The major reason is that Gibney is balanced in his portrayal of Fela. While we see the social change he tried to bring to the people of Nigeria, we also see his shortcomings. Along with the cult following he gathered, we also experience his troubling views on women and sex (he married 27 women), cheating band members out of pay and utter disregard for the AIDS disease he carried. Values that were perpetrated by the very state he fought against. There’s also his puzzling involvement with religion and a man named Professor Hindu. Gibney presents these moments without judgment, preferring to let us make up our own minds.
While Gibney spends a good amount of time profiling the man’s music, it’s his activism that you’ll remember. The music itself will be to your liking if you dig soul music or afrobeat, but I suggest the documentary even if you don’t agree with it. The important part is the actions of the man behind the music. Whether or not you side with Fela isn’t so much the deal either. I guarantee that you’ll find what he has to say interesting. As a last word, I will give you a necessary trigger warning. There are a couple of scenes that are highly disturbing – including a neck being sliced. I’m ok with Gibney retaining these parts though, as they really bring the issues to the forefront instead of skirting them.