Art, and specifically music, affect us in ways that are difficult to articulate but somehow manage to clarify concepts and ideas in a manner we can relate to and understand. This selection of films uses music from Black artists to take us through the Black community’s lived experience.
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Films in This Playlist Include
Liberty Street Blues
United States of Africa
This feature documentary presents a thoughtful and vivid portrait of a community facing imposed relocation. At the centre of the story is a remarkably astute and luminous 12-year-old black girl whose poignant observations about life, the soul, and the power of art give voice to those rarely heard in society. Unarmed Verses is a cinematic rendering of our universal need for self-expression and belonging.
Brilliantly mixing animated sequences and archival footage, Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre paints a touching portrait of virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson. As with her previous films (McLaren’s Negative and Jutra), Saint-Pierre pursues her bold and personal approach with this animated documentary of Oscar Peterson at the twilight of an exceptional career, as he wistfully meditates on the price of fame and the impacts of the artist’s life on family life. From the young prodigy’s beginnings in Little Burgundy to his triumphs on the international stage alongside the biggest stars of his time, Oscar explores the profound solitude of an artist constantly on tour, and the difficulty in reconciling his professional success with his role as husband and father. Set to the tunes of Peterson’s sometimes catchy, sometimes melancholy-tinged compositions, the film alternates between animated sequences and footage of radio and video interviews to tell a heartfelt story about a life in jazz.
This feature documentary uses music to reveal the many faces of jazz, New Orleans style. Colourful and alive with music, the film captures the street life and traditions of this vibrant city and explores the roots of the music that springs from the soul of the African-American community.
Show Girls celebrates Montreal's swinging Black jazz scene from the 1920s to the 1960s, when the city was wide open. Three women who danced in the legendary Black clubs of the day - Rockhead's Paradise, The Terminal, Café St. Michel - share their unforgettable memories of life at the centre of one of the world's hottest jazz spots. From the Roaring Twenties, through the Second World War and on into the golden era of clubs in the fifties and sixities, Show Girls chronicles the lives of Bernice, Tina and Olga - mixing their memories with rarely seen footage of the era. Their stories are told against a backdrop of the fascinating social and political history that made Montreal a jazz and nightclub hotspot for decades. It is a story of song and dance, music and pride.
This short documentary profiles the mid-century Toronto jazz scene through the eyes of acclaimed filmmaker Don Owen (Nobody Waved Good-bye). The film features prominent acts from what was then regarded as the third-largest jazz centre in North America, including the Lenny Breau trio, the Don Thompson Quintet and the Alf Jones Quartet. Jazz lovers will relish this inside look at the creativity, hard work, improvisation, and stylization of these talented musicians.