Finding Paul Simon, seeking "Sugar Man" at Sundance

Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:23pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Two documentaries that cast eyes back to South African apartheid and speak to music's healing power have shared the spotlight at the Sundance Film Festival this week among a wide selection of movies about songs, singers and musicians.

Nonfiction films "Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap," in which rapper and actor Ice-T interviews Eminem, Nas, Snoop Dogg and others about the roots of hip hop, and "Shut Up and Play the Hits," about LCD Soundsystem's last concert in New York, have focused on music.

"Filly Brown," about a female hip hop artist, "California Solo" in which Robert Carlyle plays a washed up rock star, and "I Am Not A Hipster," about a tortured singer songwriter, were among fictional films about the lives of musicians.

But it was singer-songwriter Paul Simon who captured the media spotlight with the premiere of documentary "Under African Skies," and another nonfiction film "Searching for Sugar Man" that wowed crowds here. Both of them are linked to South Africa.

"Under African Skies," recounts the making of Simon's groundbreaking 1986 album "Graceland" and shows Simon returning to South Africa where he recorded much of the acclaimed record that sparked controversy for breaking a cultural boycott of that country due to apartheid policies.

The film shows footage of original recording sessions from "Graceland" in South Africa and chronicles Simon's 2011 reunion with the album's musicians for a 25th anniversary concert.

The film makes the case that the album and resulting concert tour were overwhelming forces in bringing together people of various races and that political attacks against Simon by groups including the African National Congress were unwarranted.

"The 'Graceland' phenomenon really came from a musical source and didn't have an overt political point of view," Simon told the Sundance audience about recording in South Africa. "I am actually saying, 'I have no regard for the structures of apartheid, I am here purely on a musical basis.'"   Continued...