Finding Fela

"Good"

Finding Fela Review


While the eventful life of Fela Kuti provides more than enough subject matter for a biographical documentary, award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney weakens the film with a second narrative strand that feels like another movie altogether. He did the same thing with last year's The Armstrong Lie, which compromised the Lance Armstrong scandal with clips from an abandoned glowing doc about his earlier comeback. This time, he has intercut Fela's story with a theatre group trying to mount a show about his life.

Born in 1938, Fela is considered one of the most important figures in 20th century Africa. As a pioneering composer and performer, he transformed Nigeria's musical landscape, all while standing up for human rights and criticising political corruption, often at considerable risk of retaliation from Nigeria's oppressive government. As a young man, he was influenced by jazz clubs he visited in London and Los Angeles, and returned to Lagos to start his own iconic venue, The Shrine. A lone voice against government corruption, he lived a communal life with countless wives, girlfriends and children, and he very nearly sabotaged his career with heavy drug use. But even with his death in 1997 at age 58, he challenged the Nigerian state propaganda machine, which had declared that Aids did not exist in the country.

This story is told with a superb wealth of archival footage, stills and interviews, letting Fela himself speak and sing as his life traverses the first 50 years of Nigerian independence. This is such a vitally important story of a seriously revolutionary man that it's utterly gripping. So it's rather frustrating that Gibney weaves it together with the project to tell Fela's story through a Broadway musical. The practice and performance clips offer dramatic recreations of events in Fela's life, putting his music in context, but the actual home movies and newsreel clips tell us a lot more.

There isn't anything wrong with this backstage documentary: it's a fascinating look at how an influential man's life can be interpreted through his own artistry. But juxtaposed with the real-life clips and testimonials, it feels somewhat unnecessary. Both elements of the movie bristle with Fela's angry passion, which is expressed powerfully in songs that are often 10 to 15 minutes long, meandering through danceable movements like a jazz/hip-hop symphony. And his lyrics are such an eloquently fervent cry for justice that they feel startlingly relevant even now. Although the way this documentary is assembled leaves us wishing Gibney had made two films and let us watch them separately, offering a much stronger sense of Fela's legacy.



Finding Fela

Facts and Figures

Genre: Documentaries

Run time: 119 mins

In Theaters: Friday 17th January 2014

Distributed by: Kino Lorber

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 21

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Jack Gulick

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

Advertisement
The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Subtitled Salazar's Revenge in the UK, this fifth film in the long-running series never quite...

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.