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Jonathan Demme Directing Documentary On Italian Jazz & Fusion Musician Enzo Avitabile

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist November 28, 2011 at 6:09PM

For Jonathan Demme, who has vacillated between feature films and documentaries for his entire career, music has played a vital part of his non-fiction works. Having directed films/concert movies for Neil Young and the Talking Heads, music videos for Bruce Springsteen and The Pretenders and more, Demme's personal playlists have been as vital as any screenplay that he's written. And while we're still no closer to a feature film followup to "Rachel Getting Married," the director is once again following his musical muse.
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Jonathan Demme Enzo Avitabile

For Jonathan Demme, who has vacillated between feature films and documentaries for his entire career, music has played a vital part of his non-fiction works. Having directed films/concert movies for Neil Young and the Talking Heads, music videos for Bruce Springsteen and The Pretenders and more, Demme's personal playlists have been as vital as any screenplay that he's written. And while we're still no closer to a feature film followup to "Rachel Getting Married," the director is once again following his musical muse.

You may not have heard of Enzo Avitabile, but thanks to Demme, now you are. The world music and fusion jazz musician has worked steadily, building his name for years, gigging for folks like James Brown and Tina Turner, and in 2005, earning a nomination for an Audience Award in the BBC Awards For World Music in 2006, a nod for his album Salvamm' o munno followed. Well, Variety reports that Demme has taken a shine to his work and is now filming a documentary on the artist. But Songlines Magazine (who also took the image above) have already been on set, and have further details on the project.

“I was driving home one night and John Schaefer’s programme 'New Sounds' came on and I remember his voice saying ‘Tonight we’re featuring new sounds from Naples, Italy’ and I didn’t think much of it," Demme explains about how he first heard Avitabile. "But then suddenly one of Enzo’s pieces with Bottari comes on and I was looking at the George Washington bridge and it was a life changing moment.” 

When Demme was next in Naples he requested a meeting with the musician and the rest, as they say, is history. Filming has already started on the project which includes a recording session with a plethora of world music stars including Toumani Diabaté from Mali, Daby Touré from Mauritania, Eliades Ochoa from The Buena Vista Social Club, Palestinian singer Amal Murkus, Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, Iranian sitar player Hossein Alizadeh and Spanish guitarist Gerardo Nunez.. Filming has been taking place in some fabulous locations including the Salone Margherita and Cimitero delle Fontanelle, where vicitims of the plague in the 1600s were buried, and which inspired a song and lyrics by Avitabile.

No word yet on when this project might see the light of day, or even how it will be structured, but Demme remains optimistic. “Until we edit I don’t know how it will begin or end, but I’ve made a lot of documentaries and I know if the characters are strong and the terrain is rich then something terrific will happen. I love that,” Demme told Songlines. We'll definitely be keeping our eyes and ears open.

This article is related to: Jonathan Demme


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