So the nice weather has prevented me from seeing as many films as usual and travel plans will unfortunately make this my last film at this year's event, but once again, and it goes without saying, this year's Cleveland International Film Festival was a tremendous experience. I urge you to head down to Tower City, catch a flick or two, and take part in our wonderful festivities. Although I am sad to see my own participation end this year, it couldn't have ended with a better film, whose subject is someone I've now long admired.
In 1986, after becoming obsessed with a cassette tape of a South African performer, Paul Simon traveled to Johannesburg to play with local musicians and record the amalgamation of American pop and African music that would come to be known as his magnum opus Graceland. While the album was a tremendous success and helped heightened awareness of the evils of apartheid, many saw Simon's involvement as a breach of the U.N.'s cultural embargo with South Africa. Now, 25 years later, Simon travels to South Africa to discuss the events with Dali Tambo, a member of the African National Congress who staunchly opposed the collaboration. Meanwhile Paul Simon reorganizes old friends including Ray Phiri, Joseph Shabalala and the rest of the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo for a reunion celebration. "Under African Skies" is an incredible jubilation in Simon's groundbreaking album and the wondrous native music which led to its conception, and also an intriguing tale of the wicked modern segregationist system and how a great artist came to be involved with it and several of its victims. The film was made by documentary stalwart Joe Berlinger who does an excellent job of meshing old footage and newly shot ones, which are given great immediacy through the closeup camerawork. In ignoring the inanities of politics and being true to his own talent and vision, Paul Simon was able to make known the great artists of a culture, bring awareness to a serious social problem, and leave a lasting and masterful mark on the music world.