The 2018 Heartland International Film Festival is set to kick off on Thursday, October 11th at 7pm at Newfields with the Opening Night screening of the wonderfully entertaining and immensely moving Mr. SOUL! sponsored by The David and Betty Klapper Family Foundation. Melissa Haizlip, the film's director, along with Associate Producer Doug Blush and other special guests are scheduled to attend the screening to be followed by an after-party featuring live music by Indy's own Jennie Devoe, food from Kahn's Catering and a whole lotta dancing.
Mr. SOUL! is a feature-length documentary that has already picked up the Audience Award for Doc Feature at AFI Docs and the Best Documentary Feature prize at the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival.
Mr. SOUL! centers around the legendary public television variety show SOUL!, a 1968-1973 history maker guiided by enigmatic producer and host Ellis Haizlip. The show was among the first to provide expanded exposure for African Americans on television, yet doing so away from the inner-city poverty and violence so often covered in the news and shining a light on the Black Arts Movement. Haizlip offered an absolutely uncompromising, completely brilliant, celebration of black literature, music, poetry and politics and exposed a wide variety of now celebrated artists and activists to the public whom might otherwise have never gotten the attention they so richly deserved.
Artists like Patti LaBelle, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ashford & Simpson, Arsenio Hall, Gladys Knight, The Last Poets and others received their first television exposure on SOUL! and found themselves along the likes of James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison and others who were unapologetically black and unrelenting in their politics.
Mr. SOUL! utilizes a stunning collection of archival clips along with fascinating personal recollections to provide an intimate glimpse into a show that should be popular knowledge, especially for arts lovers, but all to often you'll say SOUL! and get a befuddled look.
Co-director Melissa Haizlip is the niece of SOUL! producer and host Ellis Haizlip, who passed away from lung cancer in 1991 and who is seen through an affectionate, yet balanced lens and through the undeniable truth that his impact was and remains nothing short of astounding.
While Mr. SOUL! is remarkable throughout its 90-minute running time including a wealth of powerful performance clips from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Al Green and others, the film is almost undeniably at its strongest when it taps into the passionate yet often stunningly intimate ton of the series. Guests like The Last Poets, Baldwin, members of the Black Panther Party and a host of others, including Muhammad Ali when he denounced the Vietnam War, possess such a powerful urgency that you're drawn into their relevance that continues even now. Ellis himself was openly gay, a remarkably rare openness on broadcast television then, and to a certain degree even now, yet like many of the things that network television would have considered too controversial they're presented with clarity and precision here.
Mr. SOUL! has the privilege of kicking off a remarkably strong year for the Heartland International Film Festival. This is especially true with doc features - several of this year's films have just completely blown me away.
For more information on the 2018 Heartland International Film Festival, visit the festival's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic