Capital Celluloid 2019 - Day 351: Mon Dec 16

West Indies: The Fugitive Slaves of Liberty (Hondo, 1979):
BFI Southbank, NFT2. 8.40pm

BFI introduction:
This rarely screened MGM-inspired Med Hondo musical was, in its day, the most expensive African film ever made. Adapted by writer Daniel Boukman from his own work, and seven years in the making, this vast musical fresco covers hundreds of years of history from enslavement to 20th-century immigration. It’s set on an enormous slave ship and boasts a dazzling array of brilliant choreography, wide-ranging musical styles, sharp satire and captivating and poignant lyricism. The BFI are presenting this film from a 35mm print.

Here is an extract from an article by Philip Concannon (you can read it in full here) on the 'African musical masterpiece you've never seen':
West Indies should have been instantly hailed as a classic and as a new benchmark for African cinema, but after its mixed reception in France the film never achieved a wide release and it gradually slipped out of circulation. Its reputation continued to shrink as it failed to receive any kind of home video release over the next four decades, and even an admirably wide-ranging list of 50 great foreign-language film musicals compiled by Vulture Magazine in 2015 failed to mention Med Hondo’s magnum opus. When Med Hondo passed away earlier this year, it’s likely that many people recognised his name more from his career as a voice actor – dubbing the likes Eddie Murphy and Morgan Freeman for the French market – than for his brilliant but obscure films. Hondo’s debut feature, Soleil O (1967), recently found a new audience after being restored by the World Cinema Foundation, and one can only hope that his other masterpieces – such as West Indies and Sarraounia (1986) – will be next in line for restoration and redistribution. The time for Med Hondo to be widely recognised as a visionary filmmaker, and for West Indies to enter the canon as one of the most vital screen musicals, is long overdue.

Here (and above) is film of the director Med Hondo in his prime.

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