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SXSW: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a joyous celebration of the famed music festival and its home base. Started in 1970 by George Wein, who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has celebrated music of all types, exposing its attendees to a rich and diverse array of performers. New Orleans has always been a cultural center for music and art and the festival pays homage to that. The documentary tells the history of the festival and shares performances from the 50th anniversary in 2019. There is also archival footage of festivals past and interviews with notable artists. Performers include Earth, Wind and Fire, Al Green, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis and family, and more. I could have done without the performances by Katy Perry, Pitbull and other more popular entertainers as I felt that was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to see more of the indie artists and legacy performers instead.

This is not a historical biography and there is just a smattering of background and context offered. Instead, the documentary takes the viewer into the world of the festival as though they were stopping at the different stages and tents to take in the various offerings. There is also a lot of appreciation for New Orleans , its history, its music and its people.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by Sony Picture Classics.

TIFF: Oscar Peterson: Black + White

Director Barry Avirch’s Oscar Peterson: Black + White is a tribute to the legendary Canadian jazz pianist. The story of Oscar Peterson is told through archival photos, performances and interview footage along with present day interviews with musicians, historians, as well as Peterson’s wife Kelly. Talking heads include Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Jon Batiste and more.

Avrich refers to the film as a “docuconcert” because throughout jazz musicians perform Peterson’s best known work, including Hymn to Freedom and Orange Colored Sky. The musical arrangements match the trio or quartet structure Peterson played from and the piano used is Peterson’s own. The documentary chronicles Peterson’s rise to fame, his extraordinary skill, his mentorship of other musicians, his devotion to his home country of Canada and personal struggles he faced including failed marriages and racism.

While Avrich’s film is informative it’s also heavily biased. At times the film felt like an advertisement more than a well-rounded documentary. With that said, I really enjoy Avrich’s documentaries, particularly Prosecuting Evil and Blurred Lines. There is so much detail and so much research that goes into his documentaries and it truly shows. The documentary-concert hybrid style adds to the enjoyment of the film.

Oscar Peterson: Black + White had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

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