Friday, June 10, 2011

Belafonte Film Reminds Us to Not Give Up the Fight

Last night we went to see the opening night feature Sing Your Song, a documentary about the career of Harry Belafonte, produced by his daughter Gina who was also present for an informative Q&A session afterwards. Now wouldn't it be great if after every time you saw an interesting film you could have the producer or screenwriter or director there to interrogate. That's one feature of film festivals you just don't experience every day.

Till last night I never realized how central of a player Belafonte was in the civil right movement. Like Sydney Poitier, Belafonte was a high profile black in Hollywood who experienced first hand the unequal treatment people of color had to endure. Both became seriously involved in the fight for rights in the racially charged south, putting their lives at risk simply to be there.

But for Belafonte it didn't end in the South. He visited Africa and allowed the sea of sorrows there wash over his unshielded heart. We talk about death with dignity in this country, but there is no dignity in starvation and he allowed himself to witness this over and over again so that he would not forget, so that he would speak and take action against the injustices that contributed to this suffering.

He also became friends with South Africa, and specifically with Nelson Mandela, whose life was likewise dedicated to non-violence and the elimination of injustice.

I'm writing as if you all know who he was. He fought in a black unit during World War II then became a singer, which brought him into theater and ultimately Hollywood, films and TV. Everyone knows at least some of his songs. For example, try Day-O, the calypso song that was featured in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice.

As a great films must be, at its heart is a great story. And in its aftermath there was much to think about. Many of the things we experienced ourselves in our youth we did not understand, in part because we did not know the truth behind the news stories we were fed. Films like this continue to shed light and help us process our own experiences.

Thank you to the film festival staff for the 17 films that will premiere this week and all their efforts to create a significant event for the arts community. This one premiered at Sundance and will be on HBO this coming October.Tonight I'll be checking out the juried Short Films at Zinema followed by The Agony & Ecstasy of Phil Spector. Can't wait.

No comments: