BWW Preview: Documentary THE AMAZING NINA SIMONE Shows In Houston on Sunday, Feb 21
Documentary film THE AMAZING NINA SIMONE recounts the highs and lows of illustrious chanteuse and jazz, blues, and classical musician Nina Simone. The film follows Simone from her youth and adolescence in segregated North Carolina to the bars and jazz clubs of Atlantic City and the concert halls to, finally, her final resting place, the French Provence Bouches-du-Rhône.
Most know Nina from her impressive musical catalog, her unmistakable cool, her rebelliousness--but there's more to the singer, says director and founder of RE-EMERGING Films Jeff Lieberman. "She was also a musical genius," Lieberman says. And "she [was] a big risk taker [who] really put her life and her career on the line for Civil Rights."
Simone was a rebel with a cause. She wrote "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The terror attack killed four young girls-Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. Collins, Robertson, and Wesley were 14. McNair was 11.
She also demonstrated her dedication to the Civil Rights Movement through protest songs like "Four Women" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black." Black Pride anthem "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" parallels Simone's life. As a young pianist, she was rejected from the Philadelphia classical music conservatory Curtis Institute of Music, likely because of her race.
The musician counted revolutionaries and activists, like Malcolm X and writer Lorraine Hansberry, among her close friends and acquaintances as well. (Hansberry's untimely death and play TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK: LORRAINE HANSBERRY IN HER OWN WORDS inspired Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."
Telling such a full life story was labor intensive. For his preliminary research alone, Lieberman spent "years and years thinking about [Nina Simone], trying to understand her on a personal level." The journalist and producer also worked at length with Nina's brother Sam Waymon. And he talked to Simone's band members and managers along with several photographers who worked with her. There were also obstacles. Finding documents, recordings-some which have been lost to time-and interviewees with clear memories and impressions of Simone. (Bold as she was, there were some prospective interviewees whose memories were as lost to time as the missing recordings). The result was a production cycle three-and-a-half-years long. But Lieberman was determined. "You want to make sure you've covered every rock," says the documentarian. "I really wanted to tell the most accurate [version] of Nina's story,"
Nina Simone's spellbinding life story sustained Lieberman through this laborious and lengthy process. "I had so much fun making it," he says. "Even though there's a lot of work and it's frustrating and challenging, just knowing that you have this amazing story to tell and that people are counting on you to tell it, that motivates you to keep going."
A Skype Q&A with director Jeff Lieberman follows the screening on Sunday.
THE AMAZING NINA SIMONE. $9. Houston showing on 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb 21 at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (Brown Auditorium), 1001 Bissonnet Street. For more information, please call 713-639-7515 or visit mfah.org/films/amazing-nina-simone/.
Runtime: 108 minutes