Monday, April 27, 2015

SFIFF: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Last Friday night I was at the Castro Theatre for the San Francisco International Film Festival's presentation of the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? There was a full house & a delay of over 20 minutes, so twice the audience began rhythmic clapping. Executive Director Noah Cowan introduced filmmaker Liz Garbus & announced that Tavis Smiley would conduct the Q&A.

Ms. Garbus already has a riveting subject & does a nice job presenting the full arc of Nina Simone's life & career, using archival footage, photographs, interviews, diary entries & recreations of Simone's childhood in the Jim Crow South. Concert films of Simone's trance-like performances are so compelling that I sometimes wanted the rest of the movie to stop so I could hear more of her music. I loved seeing her stop mid-song to demand that an audience member sit down during a 1976 Montreux concert.

Andrew Stroud, Simone's husband & manager, is the film's heavy, & Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina Simone's daughter, is frank about abuse in her family & her mother's emotional volatility. 2 daughters of Malcolm X appear as interviewees, looking & speaking like royalty.

In the Q&A, Mr. Smiley rolled the desired answers into his questions, & audience questions were more like comments, leaving little room for Ms. Garbus's replies. While waiting for the movie to start, I had a delightful conversation with the lady seated next to me who lived in New York City as a child & recalled regularly seeing Greta Garbo in the park.

§ What Happened, Miss Simone?
Director: Liz Garbus
2014, USA, 102 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 24, 2015, 6:00 p.m.
Castro Theatre
SFIFF: What Happened, Miss Simone?

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