"The Amazing Nina Simone"

A Moving Portrait of the Artist and Activist

By Sophie Bourdais

Telerama Magazine

Jan 22nd, 2015

An exceptional singer, she was also influential in the struggle for Civil Rights. The American documentary by Jeff L. Lieberman, in competition at FIPA 2015, revives Nina Simone through archival footage and interviews.

What would have happened if the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia had accepted Eunice Kathleen Waymon, a young music prodigy from Tryon, North Carolina? The world would have gained the first black classical pianist.  At the same time, we would never have heard the amazing voice of Nina Simone, an exceptional singer and fierce fighter for civil rights.

Competing in the category "Music and Performance", this great documentary "The Amazing Nina Simone" accurately  traces the tumultuous trajectory of Nina Simone (Eunice Waymon), within the larger context of post-Second World War America.  Nina (who had a mental illness that was never properly diagnose) fights against her inner demons, the first of which is racial segregation.

Although construction is fairly conventional, Jeff Lieberman's film is impressive with an abundance of interesting stories from those who knew Nina Simone (only person missing is her daughter, Lisa) and photo and film archives that bring Nina back to life.  The director (who used crowd-funding to finance some of the film) has found everyone who impacted Nina's life or crossed paths with her.

Nina chose a stage name to pay homage to another Simone (Signoret) but also to prevent her very religious mother from learning that her beloved daughter had compromised her talent by singing "the devil's music". She wrote songs while others picked up guns, such as "Mississippi Goddam" (1963) built from "pure rage" in reaction to the deaths of four black girls killed in the bombing of a Birmingham church.

There were concerts where the artist did not hesitate to scold the public if she considered them disrespectful. Her loves and tumultuous marriages. The seven personalities she inhabited, as told by her brother, Sam.  Her refusal of non-violence, made clear to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during their first meeting... Nina sings, of course, in public, around the world, and throughout the decades. And that's earth-shattering.


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