review by Jentery Sayers, KEXP Documentary Team Member
It’s really easy to reduce music to the MP3s on our iPods, the vinyl on our shelves, or the singles played on the radio. And then documentaries like Soundtrack for a Revolution come along and remind us how music is more than a record collection. It always has a culture, and that culture has a history.
Running at Northwest Film Forum starting tomorrow, April 30, through Wednesday, May 5, Soundtrack for a Revolution (directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman ) is a captivating story of the protest songs that inspired American civil rights activists during the 1950s and 60s. The film shows footage of everything from Bloody Sunday and Woolworth sit-ins to Freedom Rides, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Soundtrack for a Revolution shows how the struggle for civil rights, especially its songs and demonstrations, was motivated first and foremost by non-violence. Yet that struggle in many cases faced violent responses in extremely racist climates.
Some of the real highlights of the documentary are its interviews with civil rights foot soldiers and leaders, like Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte,Lula Joe Williams and Ambassador Andrew Young, who bring in stories that are usually left out from many books and films.
You’ve probably heard a recording or two of “We Shall Overcome” or “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind on Freedom.” But Soundtrack for a Revolution shows you those songs in compelling situations—situations where music was a vehicle for communication, resistance, change, and social justice.
The protest songs of the civil rights era had their roots in African-American spirituals and slave chants. They also remind us that the struggle for civil rights is not over, and its history lives on through its music. The film features new performances of well-known protest songs by today’s artists, including Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, The Roots, the Blind Boys of Alabama and TV on the Radio. With these performances weaving together the interviews and historical footage, the documentary moves quickly, almost too quickly. Odds are, at the end, you’ll want to hear and learn more.
I cannot recommend Soundtrack for a Revolution enough. It appeals to so many audiences: music fans, history buffs, social justice activists… the list goes on. It also expands upon the KEXP audio documentary series, Civil Rights Songs in a way that’s both engaging and informative. So give your iPod, record player, or a computer a break, if only for a second, and visit the Northwest Film Forum before Wednesday.