By: Skeeta Diggs
Filmed in 1974, at a time when movements of peace were heightened, Soul Power is a really strong example of the desire to connect cultures and find ones roots.
Artists such as; James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars, Sister Sledge, Bill Withers, Miriam Makeba, the Spinners and a list of other extraordinary talent, performed on an outdoor stage in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Congo).
Knowshi.Com spoke with director Jeffrey Levy- Hinte about an independent film that took 35 years to make.
Knowshi – When and how did you get started in the film industry?
Jeffrey- Well, I started around 1994 in editing. I was young and completely inexperienced. After a couple of years in editing industrials and TV shows, I moved into producing and directing. I got the job to work on the documentary “When We Were Kings”.
Knowshi – The famous Rumble in the jungle?
Jeffrey- Yes. “Soul Power” came from the footage we didn’t use. Soul Power is about a concert that coincided with the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Forman that was held in Zaire.
Knowshi – The concert took place in 1974…but you said you started working in the industry in 1994.
Jeffrey- (laughs) Yes. It’s a funny path it [the film] took. In 1974, I think I was in the first grade.
Fight promoter Don King had this idea to promote the fight Rumble in the Jungle with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Muhammad Ali wanted the opportunity to retake his heavyweight title. It was taken away because he protested the Vietnam War. At the same time there was this music producer and musician, Stewart Levine and jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela that had a great thought. When they heard about the fight, they had an idea to create a music concert in Africa bringing together African acts and American R&B acts. So, they approached Don King and they all decided to make it a singular event. But ultimately the fight and concert travelled two separate paths. The fight was postponed for six weeks. So, the concert really happened on its’ own. Although the concert was a success, the promoters made no money. In 1975, Steve Tolbert, the financial backer of the concert died in a plane accident.
Cut to the 90’s. When I was brought in, David Sonnenberg and Leon Gast, who controlled the footage of the fight and the concert were working on When We Were Kings. A decision was made to create a film just about the fight. It was a remarkable film. However, the concert footage was just put away.
Knowshi – When did you think about creating Soul Power?
Jeffrey- When James Brown passed away in 2005,it really struck me that we had some of the best footage of his performances along with B.B. King, The Spinners,Ceila Cruz and others. It seemed almost criminal that it was just locked away.
Knowshi – What do you hope the viewers will get out of this movie?
Jeffrey- I hope that they are entertained and enjoy the music. But I also hope that they feel a sense of the cultural connection. All kinds of people with different backgrounds come together. It’s a common thing to say, but it doesn’t happen very often.
Knowshi – Which performers did the audience in Zaire connect with the most?
Jeffrey- They connected with James Brown, Celia Cruz, and the Fania All Stars.
Knowshi – Is this an independent film?
Jeffrey- Yes. No third party financing. We took it to the Toronto Film Festival and sold it to Sony Pictures Classics. I’m happy they were able to see our historical vision as a commercial documentary.
Knowshi- Is it better to stay independent?
Jeffrey- Being completely independent and following one’s own path is always ideal, but you have to find a way to pay for it. If I were able to work with the bigger entities, I would hope to be able to keep my integrity.
Knowshi- What do you use for editing?
Jeffrey- Final Cut Pro
Knowshi- Any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Jeffrey- Just start filming. Beware of all of the resources out there. See as many films as you can. And just don’t talk about it- do it. Never give up.
Knowshi- Thirty years from now, if you have the opportunity to shoot a concert like Soul Power, what music artists of today would you want to perform?
Jeffrey- My general impression of today’s artists is that they are so pre-packaged. The business side is really intense. If I could…I would definitely bring back James Brown. All the artists in Soul Power really spoke to me.