Elton John/Leon Russell, Kings of Leon documentaries playing at Tribeca Film Festival, opening tonight
From Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
BAM Column: Oklahoma music stars step into cinematic spotlight at Tribeca Film Festival
The 10th annual festival opens tonight with the premiere of the Elton John and Leon Russell documentary “The Union,” and “Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon” is showing as a work-in-progress during the event.
A pair of influential musical acts with Oklahoma ties will grab the cinematic spotlight as the 10th Annual Tribeca Film Festival opens tonight in New York City.
The festival begins tonight with the world premiere of director Cameron Crowe’s Elton John and Leon Russell documentary “The Union.”
The documentary chronicles the British pop star’s efforts to reconnect with and revive the career of the Oklahoma music icon, who was John’s idol in the early days of his career. England’s “Rocket Man” and Oklahoma’s “Master of Space and Time” hadn’t spoken in 38 years when John reached out to the Tulsa Sound pioneer.
Beginning in November 2009, Crowe (“Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire”) documented the entire writing and recording process behind John and Russell’s 2010 collaborative album “The Union,” which was produced by T Bone Burnett. The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, earned a Grammy nomination and sparked the intended resurgence of Russell’s career, including a long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the Lawton native.
Since John had never before been filmed in his composing process, “The Union” is billed as an unprecedentedly candid portrait of one of the world’s most popular and successful entertainers.
A live performance by John will follow the free, outdoor screening, which is a way of thanking the New York City community for its ongoing support of the festival. “The Union” will premiere tonight at the North Cove at the World Financial Plaza, not far from where the World Trade Center Towers once stood. Actor Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and her entrepreneur husband Craig Hatkoff founded the Tribeca Film Festival in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to help revitalize downtown Manhattan.
“The Union” also will screen Thursday and Saturday during the festival, which runs through May 1.
The new rock documentary “Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon” also has been selected for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Stephen C. Mitchell’s rock doc will be shown as a work-in-progress Thursday, Friday, April 28 and 30.
The title of the film is drawn from a hidden track on the Grammy-winning family band’s 2003 debut album, “Youth and Young Manhood,” which in turn is taken from the Oklahoma town where the multiplatinum rockers would attend the backwoods family reunions that are said to anchor the film.
The film centers on the Followill boys – brothers Nathan (drums), Caleb (vocals, guitar) and Jared (bass) and first cousin Matthew Followill (lead guitar) – and their struggles to reconcile their strict religious upbringing with their rock ‘n’ roll career and lifestyles.
The brothers spent most of their childhood in the 1980s and ’90s roaming the Bible Belt between Memphis and Oklahoma City, riding in a purple ’88 Olds with their itinerant Pentecostal minister dad, Leon, and their mother, Betty Ann. Caleb and Jared were both born in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., while Nathan and Matthew were born in Oklahoma City. The band, which recently received the Rising Star Award from the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, is now based in Tennessee.
Once the brothers and Matthew started the band, they dubbed themselves Kings of Leon in honor of Nathan, Caleb, and Jared’s father (Matthew’s uncle) and their grandfather, who were both named Leon. Since their colorful childhood was used to hype the band in the press, first in Great Britain and then Stateside, it’s no surprise that the documentary is in the works.
“The Union” and “Talihina Sky” won’t be the only rockumentaries showing this year at Tribeca. This year’s lineup looks particularly musical, with selected documentaries including “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” about the trailblazing hip-hop act; “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne,” about the heavy metal icon; “The Swell Season,” about the Oscar-winning duo from the movie “Once”; “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life,” about the Broadway star; “When the Drum Is Beating,” about Haiti’s celebrated big band Septentrional; and “Limelight,” about the rise and fall of Peter Gatien, once the king of the New York club scene and owner of legendary venues like The Limelight, Tunnel and Palladium.
Contributing: The Associated Press.