I am Woman, Hear Me Roar… Three DIFF Docs Highlight the Female Voice
by Bridgette Poe
No matter how primitive or complex, music has always been an integral part of the human experience. From our early beginnings, it’s served us as much more than entertainment. In addition to being a platform for expressing emotion, music has always been a cornerstone of communication and a means to document (and pass down) history.
However, one of the strongest aspects of music remains its potential to create change – often, when finding ourselves with nothing, when we can’t make our voice heard and there’s no other way to change our situation – at these times, music is not only what keeps us going – it can also be what literally keeps us alive. Three documentaries screening as part of Dallas International Film Festival’s 10th year highlight the transformative and healing power of one’s personal song.
An engaging, well-made doc with a most dynamic subject, MISS SHARON JONES is a rare gem. Sharon Jones’ career story is, in and of itself, worth telling. Overcoming numerous (and seemingly insurmountable) odds, Sharon Jones finally found recognition. Her late-in life success story found her heading up the Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings and being lauded for her vocal prowess. Her incredible energy and stage presence has more than earned her the moniker “the female James Brown”. However, MISS SHARON JONES is only partly about her and her fellow band members as the work on their 2014 album: Give the People What They Want. Academy Award-winner Barbara Kopple documents Sharon Jones’ year long struggle to not only best the pancreatic cancer diagnoses she’s received – but to also keep her newly-minted career on track. The band does what they can to both support Sharon during her fight, while protecting her from certain realities of the situation. What never waivers here though, is the elation found in performing. Already well-known for her presence and for always giving it her all, it’s the boundless joy – her particular connection made with the audience – that is celebrated here. It’s Sharon Jones’ singular focus on her dream of getting back on stage that sees her through her darkest hours.
Another case of a female finding her power, while struggling for a position within the music industry, occurs on the seemingly opposite end of the spectrum. SONITA is more than just a story about a girl trying to break into the traditional misogynistic world of rap. Sonita is a young, Afghani female rapper living illegally in Iran. She DOES have the goods to break through though; she’s a skilled rapper and everyone who comes into contact with her is taken by her engaging, vibrant energy. However, her fight is not only in the rap realm, her patriarchal family absolutely believes that the best plan of action is for Sonita to be sold as a bride. For what currently amounts to about $9,000 USD, Sonita’s mother not only pushes for her to acquiesce; it’s escalated to the point of threats. But because she is who she is…Sonita’s charisma and drive will NOT be denied and eventually fortune finds a way to offer the possibility of pursuing her dreams of international rap stardom. Just as in MISS SHARON JONES, this portrait highlights feminine strength and just how creativity and the expression of one’s talent is not only a way to get through the struggle of the daily experience, in some cases – it’s absolutely the key to one’s survival. Sharing that same theme, but also sharing the international aspect of SONITA, is filmmaker Ido Haar’s documentation of a musical collaboration: PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW.
PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW began for Haar as a project following ‘Kutiman’, an Israeli viral-video artist whose chosen medium is sampling works of other artists found on YouTube. His site has earned millions of hits but it’s a woman in New Orleans who goes by the name of Princess Shaw that captures Kutiman’s attention. It’s only natural that the focus of the doc shifted for Haar to being more about Princess – her internet presence is one that not only serves as an outlet for her songs, but also as a confessional. Hers is a hard life in the poverty-stricken American South where she resides, she has overcome a challenging past – and just like Sharon Jones, all she’s looking for is a fair break in an unfair business. As in SONITA, Princess Shaw’s talent and her unwavering belief in her own value transcends all boundaries of culture, location, and situation. The common theme shared by this particular trio of films, MISS SHARON JONES, SONITA and PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW, will not only have audiences cheering on the subjects and delighting in their steps toward success, but everyone who sees them will absolutely want to learn about and hear more from each one of these unique and amazingly talented female music artists.
DALLAS STAR AWARDOscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s selected credits as a cinematographer include the Emmy nominated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce and films including DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and the Academy Award nominated film, CAROL.
DALLAS MAVERICK AWARDOur inaugural honoree, director, editor and producer Monte Hellman, has a career that spans six decades. He has exemplified cutting-edge filmmaking across multiple genres, working with budgets, from high-to-low, and with casts featuring stars to complete unknowns.