Sunday, March 02, 2014

Not Far From God

We have enjoyed several very good films at Belleville's third annual Docfest this weekend. On Friday evening we joined 700 or more to watch 20 Feet From Stardom, which is about backup singers from the 1960's on. It was a feel-good film because the music was so good, and insightful because so many of the singers who sang in the background actually created the sound the star artists were seeking to create. Nearly all the singers featured were people of colour, mostly women. We were struck by the repeated references to the church choirs of their upbringing. They had learned to listen to others and to sing with enthusiasm in the setting of church and gospel music.

Another film we appreciated was Skydancer about the high steel workers of the Mohawk First Nation. We watch these guys leave the reservation/reserve of Askwesasne to work high above the streets of cities such as New York. They dispel myths about some genetic aberration which makes them fearless -- they are afraid at times -- and about why they do this. While they are proud of their six-generation history of this work, they do it for the money in a situation where it is difficult to find good paying jobs.

The film explores their spirituality which in some respects gets left behind when they leave home to work. The two men who are features are impressive in their understanding of Mohawk spiritual practices, and they teach the children of their reservation when at home. But in some respects the earth-honouring spirituality seems at odds with the work they do in intensely urban environments. One laments that is creating scabs on Mother Earth and it's obvious he doesn't like it.

You just never know where God and spirituality will emerge!

Have any of you seen either of these films? Do they intrigue you? I think both are available online now.

Skydancer - a film by Katja Esson

1 comment:

Frank said...

I saw 20 feet from stardom. The repeated references to a gospel background was very striking.
It echoed another documentary a few years ago "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" which chronicled the Funk Brothers who provided so many of the backup instrumentals for the motown artists in the '60's. These artists too had backgrounds in jazz and R&B music. I can't recall explicit references to gospel but in so many cases the connections were pretty evident.
This under acknowledged musical talent certainly conveyed an "enthusiasm for the spirit" that seemed to provide so much of their motivation.