Liz Garbus: What Happened, Nina Simone?

Saturday we (my wife and me) enthusiastically watched the Nexflix film on Nina Simone, sunday we went for the Richard Linklater trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and there she was again (!), Nina Simone, at the end of the second film, Before Sunset, where Delpy in her Parisian flat plays a cd and imitates the artist in a pretty seductive dance

And it is a great film about an artist, who seduced the audience with her music and performance, fascinating it is from start till end, based on concert footage, fantastic archive material, interviews with Nina Simone and with Lisa Simone Kelly, the daughter and executive producer of the film, Al Schackman, her guitarist (what a gentle, wonderful man), Andrew Stoud, husband (quite an unsympathetic character) and others, diaries and letters…

Simone (who died in 2003, 70 years old) tells the story herself, and (especially) the daughter weaves it all together by telling how it all looked like from a child’s point of view.

Actuality… read a quote from the review by Manohla Dargis in New York Times: ”History changes our relationship with art, and when “What Happened, Miss Simone?” played at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it came across as a good, smart movie; now, in June — after nine black churchgoers were murdered by a suspect who claims to be a white supremacist — it feels like something altogether different.” Racism is still present in the USA of today.

It is about a fabulous artist, who wanted to become a classical pianist: Her way to become a star as a soul and jazz singer, (pushed forward by her husband as manager), who became an important voice in the civil rights movement, whose fame paled because of her political views: ”I am not for non-violence”, she left her husband and went to Africa, but came back to perform in different European countries. It is in itself an amazing and dramatic story and it is told effectively. It is never boring – because of her constant charismatic presence at the piano or at the microphone, or in interviews. Just to observe her changing facial expressions during the years!

The film is quite open about the violence in her marriage with Stoud, and about the violence that she performed herself towards the daughter. As is – at the end of the film – the diagnosis of her bipolar disorder and the consequent medication that helped her to have a comeback to the stage.

You could not have made this film without an agreement with the family to get access to all kinds of archive material. Liz Garbus has succeeded to get the authorization from Nina Simone’s estate and to ”rely on personal accounts from Nina’s family, friends, and band members”. You can read much more on the site of Nina Simone, link below.

USA, 2015, 101 mins.

Watched on Netflix in Denmark – Danish subtitles

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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