Alex Gibney's inconsistent documentary melds the life and music of Nigerian star Fela Kuti
Comparatively speaking, Fela Kuti did for African music what Djibril Diop Mambéty did for African cinema. Using his art as a means not only to battle against the harsh realities of neo-colonialism but to connect with other cultures, he created a reflection of his continent which could be understood and embraced by the western world.
Director Alex Gibney, one of the most consistently confounding documentarians working today, creates something that both celebrates a legend and acts as a warts-and-all investigation into Fela's personal affairs. Finding Fela is held together mainly by the considered insights of Bill T Jones, the co-creator and director of successful stage production Fela!, clips from which serve as re-enactments of Fela's life. However, the cloyingly melodramatic nature of these theatrical interludes quickly detracts from any dramatic momentum built up by the raw footage of the magnetic man himself.
The problem that Jones and Gibney share when analysing Fela is that they are both overly academic when delving into his character. He's a subject deserving of a documentary which captivates and stuns: this is material that's ripe for an explosive exposé. Instead we are given an incoherent presentation of numerous elements of Fela's story which, when brought together over 119-minutes, creates something cacophonous instead of being truly vibrant and moving.
As a portrait of a man Finding Fela fails to uncover the conclusive details necessary for understanding such a culturally influential figure but, to his credit, Gibney fashions a documentary which manages to unite Fela's music with the unsettling contexts which surrounded such incessantly joyful sounds. It's a film that's determined to demystify an enigma, but the sobering reality is that the most enlightening way into the mind of this artist is doubtlessly to listen to his records.
Selected release from Fri 5 Sep.