2016 has thus far felt like a year heavy in documentary bios on black public personalities, young and old, whether still alive or have moved on to whatever the next life is.
We’ve covered most, if not all of them on this blog:
— There’s “Marvin, What’s Going On?” which is being called “the defining portrait” of Marvin Gaye, and has the full support of Gaye’s children and former wife, who will also contribute to the film.
— James Baldwin is at the center of Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro.”
— There’s the feature-length documentary, “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” which tells the remarkable story of Maya Angelou – iconic writer, poet, actress and activist.
— There’s the Whitney Houston documentary, “Whitney.”
— The landmark, comprehensive, even *epic* 7-hour “O. J.: Made in America” on O.J. Simpson’s life.
— Claressa “T-Rex” Shields – the World Champion Boxer took home the Gold Medal for the United States in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, was the subject of a feature documentary titled “T-Rex.”
— There’s a definitive Look at the life of Kimbo Slice (who died on June 6) titled “One of a Kind.”
–There’s a documentary on projected No. 1 NBA Draft pick Ben Simmons.
— Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, who was found guilty of crimes against humanity in a Senegalese court a couple of months ago, is the subject of a documentary by Mahamat Saleh Haroun.
— There’s the feature documentary “Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess,” which tells the story of the legendary “Nanny of the Maroons,” Jamaica’s only female National Hero, confirmed by Jacqueline DjeDje, Professor Emeritus at UCLA, as “the first black female freedom fighter in the Americas – coming before Harriet Tubman, and even Sojourner Truth.”
— There’s “Breaking a Monster” – the coming of age story that follows the breakout success of Unlocking the Truth, a teen heavy metal trio from Brooklyn who skyrocketed to fame after a video of their performance in Times Square went viral.
— “I Called Him Morgan” is a new feature documentary which centers on the turbulent relationship between the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife, Helen Morgan, that led to her shooting him dead in 1972.
— There’s the feature-length documentary, “The Skyjacker’s Tale,” which gives audiences unprecedented access to one of the USA’s top five most wanted fugitives, who lives in Cuba: Ishmael Muslim Ali (formerly LaBeet).
And there are several others; this is just a sample of what’s out there currently, whether already released this year, or in production, or announced.
We can add this to the growing list: “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” from director John Scheinfeld, which is set to make its international premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
This is actually the second John Coltrane documentary in that I’m aware of; the other, which has yet to premiere, is being directed by long-time Spike Lee editor (as well as director and producer in his own right) Sam Pollard. The seemingly ambitious project has been in production for a few years now (I first learned about it in 2012); it’s titled “A Love Supreme: A Portrait of John Coltrane in 4 Parts.” The film is said to be based on the critically-acclaimed book “A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album” by music journalist Ashley Kahn. It will reportedly be structured in the same way as Coltrane’s influential 1964 album of the same name. The album is divided into four parts: “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.” It will feature interviews with Coltrane’s band-mates and friends, as well as historians and music journalists, artists, and people of faith who were inspired by the album. Also, and interestingly, Pollard has said that he plans to use animation to help tell Coltrane’s story in the film – something I’m very curious to see how he implements/incorporates.
While we wait for Pollard’s film, we have director John Scheinfeld’s film to look forward to in the near future, as it hits TIFF, which kicks off next week. “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” is produced by Spencer Proffer, via his Meteor 17 company. The filmmakers previously said that they aim to make a film that “humanizes” Coltrane, and not a work of hagiography.
Here’s an official summary: Revolutionary artist and innovator, John Coltrane expanded the frontiers of his craft by introducing elements from musical traditions the world over. “Chasing Trane” reveals the critical events, passions, experiences, and challenges that shaped the life of John Coltrane and his revolutionary sounds. It is a story of demons and darkness, of persistence and redemption. Above all else, it is the incredible spiritual journey of a man who found himself and, in the process, created an extraordinary body of work that transcends all barriers of geography, race, religion and age.
Thom Powers, writing for TIFF about the film had this to say about it: “Scheinfeld makes inspired use of archival materials, animated murals, readings of Coltrane’s own words by Denzel Washington, and a wealth of new interviews. The list is catnip for music lovers: jazz elder statesmen Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, and Reggie Workman; rock legends Carlos Santana and John Densmore; and younger artists such as Common and Kamasi Washington, whose work renews the spirit of Coltrane for a new generation. Scheinfeld also speaks with critics Ben Ratliff and Ashley Kahn, philosopher Cornel West, and former US president Bill Clinton. Their testimonies are tremendously articulate but even so, there are moments when they fall speechless, reminding us that such powerful music touches something in us that is beyond words.”
I don’t believe I was aware that Denzel Washington was involved in any way, let alone voicing Coltrane’s own words. But it reads like a comprehensive effort by Scheinfeld and company, and I’m looking forward to eventually seeing it.
There’s no trailer for the film at this time; there is a clip below, although it may not be in the film; it’s of Coltrane performing one of his signature songs “My Favorite Things” during a 1965 concert in Comblain-la-Tour, Belgium.