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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #11: Liz Garbus Went On a Scavenger Hunt for ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #11: Liz Garbus Went On a Scavenger Hunt for 'What Happened, Miss Simone?'

Liz Garbus made her Sundance Film Festival debut back in 1998 with “The Farm: Angola, USA,” an intimate documentary portrait of six prisoners incarcerated in the Angola, LA maximum security prison. That same year, she and fellow documentarian Rory Kennedy, launched their production company Moxie Firecracker Films. Garbus and Kennedy have been working together under the Moxie Firecracker banner, sometimes together and other times on their own.

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less? Nina Simone.

Now what’s it REALLY about? “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is a culmination of all the themes I had been exploring in documentaries for 15 years. Nina Simone’s brilliance would forever change the musical landscape and yet she never fully got her due. She struggled against demons from both within and without, and her life was both a reflection of the legacy of racism in America as well as an extraordinary example of the power a righteous voice can bring to bear against even the most wicked historical legacies. The film is comprised of hours of never before heard audio recordings where Nina tells her life story, as well as performance footage and interviews. And MUSIC!
Tell us briefly about yourself. I’m a director, a native New Yorker,  a mother. I started making films back in the late 1990s, when I made “The Farm: Angola, USA.”  Since then, my films have included “Girlhood,” “Bobby Fischer Against the World,” “There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane,” “Love, Marilyn” and others. 

Biggest challenge in completing this film? Nina’s story is so complex, she has so many facets to her personality — some brilliant, some craggy. Weaving them all together, against the historical backdrop of the political upheaval of the 1960s, was a challenge and a delight. And the archival aspect made it sort of like a worldwide scavenger hunt for all things Nina.
What do you want Sundance audiences to take away from your film? I think Nina is an inspiration and she thrived at a time when the music meant something. I’d love for the music to mean something again.  
Any films inspire you? So many films inspired me! “Don’t Look Back,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Senna,” “Heart of Darkness.”
What’s next? More films.
What cameras did you shoot on? Alexa Bolex (16mm portions)
Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why? No. The film was financed by Netflix; their first original film!

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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