Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soundtrack for a Revolution: Songs of Freedom

Writer/directors Bill Guttentag Dan Sturman have made a masterful documentary. Soundtrack for a Revolution weaves historical footage, recent interviews and music from the time with modern performances of the freedom songs of the United States civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

Participants in this moving, often tragic and ultimately triumphal period tell their stories of fighting racism and segregation in America’s South. Congressman John Lewis and UN Ambassador Andrew Young retrace their journey of non-violence with Martin Luther King Jnr.

Lynda Lowery was a 14 year-old when she was brutally attacked at the peaceful march in Selma. Her emotional recollection of that event and those that followed embodies the spirit of the times.

The struggle for black rights was a major part of my teenage television viewing: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycotts; violence in Little Rock Arkansas, the 1961 freedom rides, the 1963 March on Washington, the mid 60s campaign for voting rights; the integration of universities; Bloody Sunday at Selma; King’s assassination in 1968.

Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and North & South Carolina were villains in the ongoing news. Bloodshed in places such as Birmingham and Selma regularly led the bulletins. Bombing, lynching, murders and beatings and intimidation by police and the Ku Klux Klan painted a sorry picture.

Most of the songs are well known to my generation: We shall overcome, Hold on/Keep your eyes on the prize, We shall not be moved, Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round. Other are less familiar.

An array of first class modern artists brings the songs to life: John Legend, The Roots, Wyclef Jean, Joss Stone, Angie Stone, Mary Mary, TV On the Radio, Blind Boys of Alabama, Anthony Hamilton and Richie Havens, plus the inspirational Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir.

A very important story, familiar to many, has been reinvigorated in a way that will make it accessible to new generations. The film ends with the newly elected Barack Obama. Soundtrack for a Revolution is a fitting testament to those whose voices made his journey possible.

It is no surprise that this film is on the short list for the Oscar for best documentary.

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