Sundance 2012 Review: UNDER AFRICAN SKIES


Under African Skies is a documentary about Paul Simon's seminal album, Graceland. It covers the producing of the original album as well as the controversy it sparked upon its release. The album was seen as a breaking of the so called "cultural embargo" in South Africa - which some thought to be an important weapon in the fight against apartheid.


To frame the historical context, the film is structured around the 25th anniversary concert that Simon put on, for which he gathered all of the original musicians to play through the entire album. Additionally, a conversation between Simon and Dali Tambo forms the backbone of the film. Dali Tambo, along with his parents, Oliver Tambo and "Mama" Tambo were a family of anti apartheid activists who were at the forefront of the movement against Graceland. This conversation, as they work towards an understanding and reconciliation, presents the films themes of art over politics and of bringing people together through the art.


Like most music documentaries, this one will be loved by the fans no matter what - and you can count me in that category. This film is at it best when is breaking down the way the music came together, intercut with the modern day rehearsal process in which all the musicians are back together and jamming like it's 1985. The process of combining the different genres and guest musicians together with Simon's lyrics is fascinating and hearing it all come together like magic is oh-so satisfying.


Unfortunately, when the documentary tries to transcend its "just for the fans" worldview, it tends to stumble. Its overview of the controversy is shallow and the exploration of the "other" perspective does little to give that side a chance. Tambo's outlook comes off as antiquated and stubborn which leads one to automatically side with Simon. I wish the film helped give me a better understanding of all the viewpoints of the issue which had so many people up in arms, all over the world.


Regardless of that short coming, this film is a must see for any fan, whether you like the album just a little, or very, very much. With the archival footage, the interviews from the likes of Paul McCartny, David Byrne and Oprah, and the music itself, this film offers much to keep one wonderfully nostalgic, entertained, and dancin' in your seat.

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