Film: Paul Simon Under African Skies

30 Mar 2012

Weekend Box Office

Hot Docs is pleased to announce that the 2011-12 season of the monthly screening series Doc Soup will close with UNDER AFRICAN SKIES (D: Joe Berlinger, USA, 102 minutes).

(Capsule review at end of article)

Called “a pure-bliss celebration of Paul Simon’s landmark album Graceland,” by The Hollywood Reporter, UNDER AFRICAN SKIES will screen on Wednesday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Advance tickets are now available for purchase online at http://www.hotdocs.ca.

Although praised as an influential cultural work, Paul Simon’s award-winning album Graceland faced a maelstrom of political criticism when it was released in 1986. By travelling to South Africa to collaborate with African artists and write and record the album, Simon defied anti-Apartheid activists and was accused of violating the United Nations cultural boycott. UNDER AFRICAN SKIES weaves together both sides of this complex story, celebrating the musical accomplishments of Graceland while investigating the political controversy that surrounded the album’s production and release. By featuring archival footage of the making of the album, footage from the 25th anniversary concert in 2011, and Simon in conversation with Artists Against Apartheid founder Dali Tambo, director Joe Berlinger chronicles the profound artistic achievement and politic impact of Simon’s seminal work.

The Doc Soup monthly screening series brings the latest Canadian and international documentaries to the big screen in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Single tickets for UNDER AFRICAN SKIES are $14 and can be purchased in advance at http://www.hotdocs.ca or at the door on the night of the screening (subject to availability). A limited number of free tickets for the 9:15 p.m. screening will be available to students with proper ID (subject to availability) at the door, on a first-come first-served basis beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The 2011-12 season of Doc Soup will close with this screening on April 4. Subscriptions for the 2012-13 season will go on sale March 20 at special Hot Docs Festival pricing, and will be available for purchase online, by phone at 416-637-5150 or in person at the Hot Docs documentary Box Office, newly located at 783 Bathurst Street. For more information, visit http://www.hotdocs.ca/docsoup.

Hot Docs is pleased to acknowledge Citytv as the Presenting Partner of the Doc Soup series.

Doc Soup Toronto is sponsored by Rogers Group of Funds.

Capsule review:-

Directed by Joe Berlinger
UNDER AFRICAN SKIES is the exhaustive story behind Paul Simon’s award winning Graceland album.  It has been 25 years since Graceland was produced and Simon returns back to South Africa to perform with his friends, many of whom he had not met for the entire time.  Simon is seen both matured and as a young performer, which is really neat.

Director Joe Berlinger (METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER, BLAIR WITCH 2) uses archival footage of Simon’s first visit to South Africa to meet, jam and record with the African musicians that culminated with the creation of Graceland.  The film contains extended segments of rehearsals and performances as well as interviews with the who’s who in the music business including Harry Belafonte, Paul McCartney and Quincy Jones.  Amidst all this, Simon broke the cultural boycott and went to South Africa to do the album.  The film takes Simon’s side that it was all right to do this despite massive protests by South Africans, the Americans and the world.  To be fair to people fighting for Apartheid, the boycott should be respected, no matter how much good comes from it.  The arguments put forth in the film about victims not victimized twice and the eventually bonding of black and white for the album do not really hold.  But one must give it to Simon, that he did his best to correct his mistake, though the never ever admitted any wrong doing.  (This is an arguable point in this review that many might agree or disagree with.  I am merely stating what the film projects.) Though the film runs only 90 minutes or so, the film has a feel that much could be edited.  There are many repeated and similar portions like the scenes in which Simon is shown hugging an African.  The audience gets the point already.

But it is the beauty of Simon and collaborators’ music that eventually uplifts, making this documentary a celebration of art and music despite all adversities.

(Special Screening Apr 4th at Doc Soup, at the Bloor Cinema, Toronto)

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