Film tells story of ‘black Tonight Show’

  • Ellis Haizlip, left, interviews writer and political activist Amiri Baraka. Photograph courtesy of Melissa Haizlip

    Ellis Haizlip, left, interviews writer and political activist Amiri Baraka. Photograph courtesy of Melissa Haizlip


The Bermuda International Film Festival will screen a documentary about a pioneering black television producer who ushered giants and rising stars of black American culture onto the national television stage in the United States.

Mr SOUL! — Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV, screening as part of the festival’s recently relaunched Biff Flix monthly series, will be shown next Wednesday.

Haizlip was host and executive producer of SOUL!, the first “black Tonight Show” when it made its debut in 1968. He was known for being hip, smart, innovative, and political.

On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, he reconceived a Harlem Renaissance for a new era.

Altogether, Haizlip produced more than 130 hour-long shows featuring a dazzling array of A-list guests: Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Stevie Wonder, Maya Angelou, Ashford and Simpson, Nikki Giovanni, Al Green, Muhammad Ali and a 16-year-old Arsenio Hall doing magic tricks.

The film’s archival footage captures many of those guest appearances and also invites the viewer behind-the-scenes of the show from its initial conception to its final broadcast.

The film is co-winner of the International Documentary Association’s 2018 Best Music Documentary award, won the audience choice prize at the AFI Docs Film Festival, and has screened at top festivals in Toronto, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, among other locales. It is rated 14A (Ontario).

The film will screen at the Speciality Cinema, Hamilton next Wednesday, at 6.30pm. Advance tickets, $15, are on sale at www.specialitycinema.bm and at the cinema’s box office. Tickets will also be sold on the door.

BIFF Flix screenings are held monthly at the Speciality Cinema featuring the best arthouse, foreign, documentary and independent films.

The 22nd edition of BIFF will be held March 10 to 17.

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Published Jan 3, 2019 at 1:00 pm (Updated Jan 3, 2019 at 1:00 pm)

Film tells story of ‘black Tonight Show’

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