Soul Power Movie Review
President Mobuto himself provided the venue for the three-day music festival, although Don King concentrated on the Ali-Foreman main event. A Liberian investment group funded both the festival and the documentary, which goes some way in explaining why it took 35 years to edit together footage that covers everything from the Zaire-bound plane flights to the amazing performances. The best moments are when the participants land in Africa, seeing the home of their ancestors for the first time and interacting with the community around them.
It takes about half an hour for Levy-Hinte to finally show us the concert, but what we see before is so engaging that we don't mind at all. There are terrific scenes of the artists making music with kids in the streets, and several sequences in which Ali once again shows us his iconic charisma. His rapid-fire chatter is fantastic, including comments about how amazed he was to have an African pilot on the flight, and later he gives an incredibly tough and provocative speech about injustice against blacks by whites in America.
These clips make the film an invaluable archive, capturing a moment in history when everything was truly starting to shift. It's incredibly emotional, and these deep currents run through the musical scenes as well, with James Brown at the peak of his powers on stage (and off). The all-access coverage is expertly shot by ace documentarians Albert Maysles, Paul Goldsmith, Kevin Keating and Roderick Young, and the footage has been gorgeously restored for this release, including a goosebump-inducing soundtrack.
Far from just a concert film, Levy-Hinte balances the music perfectly with the politics, the boxing match and local life, capturing first impressions and strong attitudes, plus a real sense that the musicians feel like they've come "back home". These are people with larger-than-life personalities, and the film captures them in all their glory, from good-natured banter to raw emotions. It even allows the Godfather of Soul to have the last word. Not that the filmmakers had a choice.