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Hot Docs 2021: Preview of Music Documentaries

Phil Childers and I are thrilled to be covering Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival for 360°Sound. The largest documentary fest in North America, Hot Docs will be online this year and run from April 29 to May 9. Our exclusive coverage will be focused on the music documentaries making their Hot Docs premiere.

Here’s a preview of seven music docs we’re excited to see. Included are the official synopses and trailers. Stay tuned to 360°Sound for reviews, interviews with filmmakers, and more!

FANNY: The Right to Rock

Director: Bobbi Jo Hart – Canada

Sometime in the 1960s, in sunny Sacramento, two Filipina-American sisters got together to play music. Little did they know their garage rock band would evolve into the legendary Fanny, the first all-woman band to release an LP with a major record label. Despite recording a handful of albums and amassing a dedicated fan base that included music legend David Bowie, the band all but disappeared from the records of music history.

This documentary not only tells the story of the band’s rocking past, but also documents its next chapter. Now in their 60s, the bandmates are recording a new album. The film includes interviews with a large cadre of music icons, including Bonnie Raitt, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and the Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine. Fighting early barriers of race, gender and sexuality in the music industry, the women of Fanny are ready to take their place in the halls of rock-n-roll fame. Aisha Jamal

I’m Wanita

Director: Matthew Walker – Australia

Australia’s self-crowned “Queen of Honky Tonk” Wanita Bahtiyar has dreamt of being a star since the age of three. Not short on sass or talent at the mic, it’s the 25 years of outrageous offstage antics that have turned her real life into the stuff of a country song. Hard partying, parenting, sex work and helping out absolutely anyone in need have worn her non-neurotypical spirit out. Estranged from her daughter and barely endured by her Turkish cowboy husband, Wanita has burned every bridge in the business. With the help of two musicians, she’s got one last chance to travel to Nashville and record an album with a legendary producer.

Can she hold it together long enough to lay down her blazing tracks or will she flame out for good? Is she a harebrained diva of song, or simply a misunderstood woman denied success all her life? This raucous pursuit of a dream inspires as it sings her fantastically imperfect praises. – Myrocia Watamaniuk

7 Years of Lukas Graham

Director: René Sascha Johannsen – Denmark

Danish band Lukas Graham’s lead singer Lukas Forchhammer has an uncanny ability to set audacious goals and actually achieve them—from getting signed to a major label, working with dream producers, performing on the world’s biggest stages, scoring a hit song with “7 Years” and garnering multiple Grammy nominations. But will success and fame have the group changing their tune?

Shot over seven years with the intimate backstage access of a friend, this is the rare rock doc that shows the band’s development and major milestones as they happen. We see their dreams coming true firsthand, witness the shift at shows when performing becomes a chore and can pinpoint the exact moment when their anonymity is lost. As they make it big, frontman Forchhammer loses his father as he becomes one himself for the first time, helping him realize the limits of wanting more and the meaning of the old adage “be careful what you wish for.” – Angie Driscoll

Faith and Branko

Director: Catherine Harte – Serbia/UK

While eagerly learning to play fantastic Roma music in Serbia, Faith, a free-spirited British artist, falls hard for Branko, a young Roma violinist. Passionate and collaborative, their onstage chemistry fuels explosive performances and a star-crossed love affair. Dreaming of the music they will make together, the pair overlook language and geographic barriers, and marry. But after living with her new husband’s old-world family and traditions, it isn’t long before Faith misses the road.

Despite his misgivings about leaving home for the first time, Branko borrows some of his wife’s confidence and they take their double act on tour. Creating together, living on the move and challenging themselves as artists set their music alight, but tests their marriage in an unexpected way. Are the adoring crowds, sizzling performances and their white-hot passion enough to keep the music playing? Open hearts and a pumping soundtrack fuel this tender look at two artists in love. Myrocia Watamaniuk

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

Director: Paul Sng & Celeste Bell – United Kingdom

The death of Anglo-Somali punk icon and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene sends her filmmaker daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship. As the first Black woman in the UK to lead a successful rock band, Poly introduced a new sound of rebellion with the classic “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” and unleashed her unconventional voice and prescient lyrics on tracks about biracial identity, consumerism and postmodernism. But the late musician didn’t just leave behind a large cultural footprint, she also left a legacy of private demons.

In a call-and-response from beyond the grave, the singer-songwriter and her daughter dialogue through old photos, diaries and personal effects, exhuming the poverty, misogyny, racism and mental illness that plagued a mother’s life and a daughter’s childhood. Featuring interviews with Neneh Cherry, The Raincoats, The Bodysnatchers and The Slits, alongside energetic narration by Oscar nominee Ruth Negga, this missing chapter in music history puts Poly in her proper place—as key architect of the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements. Angie Driscoll

Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm

Director: Hannah Berryman – United Kingdom

Fifty years ago, deep in the Welsh countryside, two brothers traded milking cows on the family farm to live out their wildest dreams of making hit records with the most influential artists of all time. Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm is a delightfully entertaining trip through the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. Kingsley and Charles Ward always had a passion for music; they even created their own record and tried to shop it to local studios. Soon animals were kicked out of the barn, bags from pigs’ feed lined the walls for sound insulation, and Freddie Mercury and Queen were cutting what would become “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Featuring interviews from the legends themselves, Rockfield is a celebration of a magical place and moment in time that can never be replicated. It’s the fairytale story of hallowed grounds that held their own against studio giants such as Abbey Road and Electric Lady to produce the most timeless tracks of a generation. – Ravi Srinivasan

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – USA

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten—until now.

Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach and more. (official synopsis)

Stay tuned to 360°Sound for exclusive coverage of these Hot Docs films and more!


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