Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies begins with Paul Simon’s 2011 emotional journey back to South Africa and the roots of his seminal album Graceland, but it unfolds into a kaleidoscopic portrait of the turbulent birth and ever-shifting life of a work of art.
Joe Berlinger’s film airs on Great Performances Friday, January 4 at 9 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.)
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Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey tracks the controversial recording of Graceland and its subsequent impact–and enduring influence–on world music and pop culture, made its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It has been honored at the South By Southwest Film and Music Festival, the Cleveland International Film Festival, the Nashville Film Festival, the Banff Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival.
In Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey, Simon revisits the making of the record, surveying from the vantage of history the turbulence and controversy surrounding the album’s genesis. His artistic decision to collaborate with African musicians created a new world musical fusion, combining American and African musical idioms while igniting an intense political crossfire, with Simon accused of breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa designed to end the Apartheid regime.
The universal appeal of the music of Graceland proved more powerful and enduring than the political hotbed attending its creation. In 1986, the album sold 14 million copies worldwide, and received universal praise from critics around the globe. By January of 1987, “You Can Call Me Al” was everywhere and Graceland won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 1987. Then, in an unprecedented carryover, the album earned the Song of the Year Grammy with its title track in 1988. The album generated three hit singles–”You Can Call Me Al,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “The Boy in the Bubble”–while keeping Paul Simon and the Graceland tour on the road for five years.
These questions fuel Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey, as Berlinger captures Simon reuniting with the South African musicians whose work became the heartbeat of Graceland, as well as preparing for a 25th anniversary concert that carries profound meaning for all of them. New insights, old ghosts and the sheer exhilarating joy of raw rehearsals emerge along with revealing interviews with Simon and such musical legends as Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Paul McCartney and David Byrne – who measure the breadth of Graceland’s musical, political and cultural impact.
But the soul of the film becomes an impromptu, ultimately stirring, collision: an unanticipated meeting between Simon and the founder of Artists Against Apartheid, Dali Tambo, long an outspoken critic of Simon visiting South Africa under apartheid. Each man has his own passionate reasons, and without taking sides, the film allows the viewer to see all the angles and come to their own conclusions — even as the music that triggered indignation and exultation comes to life again.
The critically acclaimed new film from Academy Award nominated and two-time Emmy and Peabody Award winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger (“Brother’s Keeper,” “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” the West Memphis Three/”Paradise Lost” trilogy) had its broadcast debut on the A&E Network last May with the title Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies. It was produced by @radical.media for A&E IndieFilms and Sony Music Entertainment’s Legacy Recordings, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. It received an Emmy Award in September, as well as major audience awards at SXSW and Cleveland Film Festivals. “The documentary…will remind many people of what they love about Graceland, the Paul Simon album whose 25th anniversary the film celebrates,” wrote Lawrence Downes in The New York Times. “Seeing it will also be a jolt for those who have forgotten the world of bitterness into which it was born….”
Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey is directed by Joe Berlinger and produced by Berlinger, Jon Kamen and Justin Wilkes. The executive producers are Molly Thompson, Robert DeBitetto, Dave McKillop, Robert Friedman, Frank Scherma, Eddie Simon, Richard Story, Adam Block and Gil Aronow. The cinematographer is Bob Richman and the editor is Joshua L. Pearson.
For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer, and David Horn is executive producer.
Major funding for Great Performances is provided by the Irene Diamond Fund, the paulAnne Ray Charitable Trust, The Agnes Varis Trust, and PBS.