BIFF 12 - Sing Your Song - Cinema Review

'What really makes interesting personality documentary pieces worthwhile is incisive interviewing, research and a willingness to pry beyond matters of popular record. Rostock does none of this.'

I must admit to not knowing much about Harry Belafonte prior to Sing Your Song, and after the film I must also admit that this knowledge had increased but, on the flip side, at no point did I ever feel like I was really learning anything. Written and directed by Susanne Rostock, Sing Your Song is distinctly not a 'warts'n'all' documentary. It was produced by at least one member of Belafonte's family, I'm sure I saw a production credit for a Belafonte company and, for the most part, the documentary plonks the eighty-five year old in front of the camera and has him tell you how wonderful he is. I'm not saying that Harry Belafonte isn't wonderful (he clearly is, in many ways) but I would contest that listening to someone tell you that they are great for quite some time does not an incisive documentary make.

Quite how much time Belafonte spends telling us he is great is a matter for debate. The Film Festival Programme lists Sing Your Song at a suspiciously short seventy-seven minutes. After something approaching one-hundred and ten minutes, I had to leave the screening to attend Bradford's closing gala. The usher later told me I had missed the final five or so minutes*. Whatever the exact runtime, Sing Your Song was far too long for this sort of portraiture piece. The final third - dealing with a series of contemporary moments in Belafonte's life - stretches out for an age and becomes far too anecdotal, replacing interesting talking heads with apparently un-vetted footage of him at a range of protest sites or aid deliveries.

In all the film feels like a waste of what should have been a great piece on a great man. Pick any celebrity you like and you could conjure up a highlight reel of them doing their day job (in Belafonte's case; acting and singing) and a highlight reel of the things they do for good causes (in Belafonte's case; civil rights, foreign aid work and political lobbying on human rights issues), but the celebrity that would populate that highlight reel could fairly easily be interchangeable. What really makes interesting personality documentary pieces worthwhile is incisive interviewing, research and a willingness to pry beyond matters of popular record. Rostock does none of this, settling instead for platitudes which ensure we know just how fantastic a guy Harry Belafonte is, but very little else besides.




*This review based on an estimated viewing of around 91-95% of the film

The 18th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 19th - 29th April at The National Media Museum and several satellite venues in and around Bradford. It includes a European Features competition, the Shine Short Film Award and several major UK premieres and retrospectives.

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