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In case you didn’t already know, the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival had the hip-hop culture on lock this year—see here for proof. But as significant as rap and R&B were at TFF, this year’s lineup didn’t neglect those who don’t know Rhymefest from, well, the Tribeca Film Fest.
For rock fans, there was a profound and visceral look back at the life of an elusive ’90s superstar; for those with dynamite soul, a two-for-one gift from Bronx-bred royalty; and for the more open-minded tune lover, an exploration into music’s universally liberating powers.
Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions Premiere and Concert
Mary J. Blige didn’t just bring “it” to the Beacon Theater on TFF’s second night—she brought it there, tore it down on stage, and left it sobbing in tears of joy. WATCH VIDEO IN PLAYER ABOVE
Enjoying something of a career rejuvenation, thanks to the overseas recording experience of her latest album, The London Sessions, Blige showed TFF just how reenergized she’s feeling these days. The night began with the world premiere of Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions, an all-access documentary about that album’s creation, in which Blige invites director Sam Wrench’s camera into her studio time with English soul artists Sam Smith and Emeli Sandé and electro producers Disclosure. You see her cry while hearing new song lyrics for the first time, and her eyes light up as she trades ideas back and forth with Smith.
The emotions amplified tenfold once the film ended. With what could best be described as Mary J. Blige: Unplugged, the powerhouse singer and her band reminded the crowd why Blige is one of the best live performers in the game. The microphone practically melted as she belted out her self-empowerment anthem “No More Drama.”
“It” never stood a chance.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck NYC Premiere and Q&A with Courtney Love and Director Brett Morgen
“Documentary” doesn’t quite describe director Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. To fully understand the film’s scope and effects, imagine being able to spend 130 minutes inside the late Nirvana frontman’s troubled, tortured head. Morgen weaves together archival footage and home movies with Cobain’s personal journal entries, animated reenactments from the musician’s dark teenage years, a dizzying sound design blending Nirvana’s songs and homemade mixes Cobain strung together in apparent states of delirium. You don’t learn about his life story so much as you experience life through Cobain's drug-impaired eyes.
Played at a booming volume inside Spring Studios (a request from Morgen), Montage of Heck was a dominating viewing experience at the festival, and one made all the more special thanks to the post-screening Q&A. Joined by moderator and Rolling Stone reporter Neil Strauss, Morgen and Courtney Love, Cobain’s equally fascinating widow, opened up about the former’s near-decade-long process of putting the film together and Love’s reactions to seeing some of his most private moments with Cobain on a big screen, along with an audience full of strangers.
Montage of Heck will air on HBO on May 4, at 9 p.m. EST.
Songs of Lahore Premiere and Surprise Performance
It’s relatively easy for stateside artists to record their music—find a studio, book it, gather the necessary collaborators, and start creating. But that’s not the case in some other countries, namely Pakistan, where a musicians' efforts to make the art they love require Ocean’s Eleven-level strategizing.
The TFF-premiering documentary Songs of Lahore demonstrates the intense difficulties faced by a group of jazz-loving instrumentalists living in the Pakistani city. Forced to play their music in secret, they’re rebels with a well-defined cause. Once their rendition of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" made its way overseas, Lincoln Center’s Wynton Marsalis became a fan and invited them to perform in NYC. Co-directors Andy Shocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy followed the musicians from their homes to Sachal Studios, where all the musical magic happens, with them as they visit New York for the first time.
After one of Songs of Lahore’s TFF screenings last week, the Sachal Studios players surprised the audience with live “Take Five” performance. As you can see in the video clip above, those hard times trying to realize their instrumental dreams were totally worth it.
As a bonus, here's the second half of one of the fest's coolest hip-hop moments...
CRWN: A$AP Rocky
Consider this the unofficial launch of Tribeca Talks®: Rapper Series. Technically, it was the latest edition of CRWN, O.G. hip-hop journalist Elliott Wilson’s ongoing live interview series that, so far, has welcomed the likes of Drake, Nicki Minaj, T.I., and R. Kelly. Bringing CRWN to the Tribeca Film Festival for the first time, Wilson sat down for a nearly 90-minute-long convo with A$AP Rocky, the young Harlem native who’s been leading the charge for New York’s new hip-hop generation.
Inside Spring Studios, Wilson and the MC self-dubbed "Pretty Flacko" spoke candidly about Rocky’s fashion-forward thinking, his wide range of musical inspirations, the effects “psychedelic” drugs have on his art, and other topics that weren’t exactly PG-13. There’s a reason why A$AP Rocky wasn’t a part of Tribeca’s Family Day—actually, multiple reasons. But, hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun for the grown-ups.