Jeffrey Levy-Hinte's film, Soul Power, is opening this weekend in select cities. If you're a fan of documentaries or pop music, this is must-see viewing. On Wednesday night, Sony Pictures Classics hosted the film's New York pre-release event with a screening and after-party. It was my first time seeing the film, which premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, and I was entranced by what I saw. Levy-Hinte has produced some terrific films over the years, including Laurel Canyon, Mysterious Skin, and Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. This film is both something very new and something very old, for the filmmaker. Soul Power is Jeffrey Levy-Hinte's directorial debut, but it is also the culmination of a job he took as editor of the 1996 Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings.
Soul Power is the depiction of the R&B concert that arose surrounding the events that would become the film When We Were Kings. Musicians such as James Brown, Bill Withers, and Celia Cruz made their way to Zaire to perform in a music festival to coincide with the legendary 1974 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. After the well-documented delay, due to a pre-fight injury from Foreman, the American musicians were compelled to let the show go on. Soul Power is the definitive glimpse at that legendary show, 35 years after the fact. The film is a concise examination of the performances that transpired over the three days of the festival, as well as some of the backstage drama. From a filmmaking perspective, the most compelling aspect comes from the fact that Levy-Hinte built this film from 35 year-old archives. This is a document of history, that very easily almost became forgotten. Thankfully, the film and the performances, exist to live another day.
The screening in New York City was full of people that hadn't yet seen the film; and the reaction was wonderful. The final product is simply a satisfying concert film, with moments of expression from the eclectic cast of characters. There is a deeper meaning, and a deeper feeling, that makes Soul Power a singular experience. Here is the Soul Power trailer: