Looking at three music documentaries from the DOC NYC festival: Play With the Devil: Becoming Zeal & Ardor, Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn, and Bobi Wine: The People’s President.
The annual DOC NYC Festival wrapped up in New York City on Thursday, although it continues through the 26th online. Featuring a long list of compelling documentaries already released and yet to be, the festival also included a large selection of music-related documentaries. Here are looks at three of them:
Play With the Devil: Becoming Zeal & Ardor
Here’s a doc that draws a great deal of mileage out of a compelling subject. And that man is Manuel Gagneux, a biracial Swiss musician whose musical project is called Zeal & Ardor. The genre, known as “Black Death Metal,” features a commendation of guitar-based heavy metal with slavery-era work songs. There’s even a touch of Satanism, which like most things of its kind is more a provocation than sincere belief.
Directed by Olivier Joliat and Matthias Willi, Play With the Devil follows Gagneux on a tour of the United States, where he comes face to face with his influences, as well as the climate that followed the killing of George Floyd.
This is a first-rate music documentary that doesn’t quite go in the direction that you think it might. There’s no word yet on a release date.
Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn
Rather than a contemporary figure, this documentary has a subject who has in fact been dead since 1847.
Sheila Hayman’s documentary makes the case that 19th-century German composer Fanny Mendelssohn was the true genius and that her brother, Felix Mendelssohn — the one more commonly known as “Mendelssohn” — received improper credit for some of Fanny’s compositions.
Featuring archival material as well as talking head interviews with experts, Fanny makes its case convincingly, while featuring plenty of beautiful music. At a time when a lot of people will be paying attention to classical music due to the release of Maestro, this is a story very much worth telling as well.
Fanny does not yet have a set release date in the United States.
Bobi Wine: The People’s President
This is a film about a musician who went on to something much bigger, while not necessarily giving up his original vacation.
Bobi Wine is a popular musician in Uganda, who later made a move into politics, running a reformist campaign for the presidency of his country. In that 2021 campaign, he was challenging the despotic incumbent Yoweri Museveni, who has led Uganda since 1986. For his trouble, Wine was imprisoned and otherwise persecuted, including what looked a lot like election fraud (the real kind, not the Trump kind).
Directed by Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp, the film is a front-row seat to the run-up and consummation of that campaign, with the filmmakers likely putting themselves at great risk to tell the story. The whole thing is thrilling, while also horrifying- and that’s before the word, last month, that Wine had been arrested again upon his return to Uganda.