A classically trained musical genius, chart-topping chanteuse, and Black Power icon, Nina Simone is one of the most influential, beloved, provocative, and least understood artists of our time. On stage, she was known for utterly free, rapturous performances, earning her the epithet "High Priestess of Soul." But amid the violent, day-to-day fight for civil rights, she struggled to reconcile artistic ambition with her fierce devotion to a movement. Director Liz Garbus sensitively explores the constant state of opposition that trapped and tortured Simone—as a classical pianist pigeonholed in jazz, as a professional boxed in by family life, as a black woman in racist America—and in so doing, reveals a towering figure transcending categorization and her times. The film stays true to Simone's subjectivity by mining never-before-heard tapes, rare archival footage, and interviews with close friends and family. Charting Simone’s musical inventiveness alongside the arc of her Jim Crow childhood, defining role in the Civil Rights Movement, arrival at Carnegie Hall, self-imposed exile in Liberia, and solitary life in France, this astonishingly intimate yet epic portrait becomes a non-fiction musical—lush tracks and riveting story resonating inextricably. —C.L.
Academy Award-nominated director Liz Garbus is a leading U.S. documentary filmmaker and co-founder of Moxie Firecracker Films, under which she has produced over 15 films. Recent works include Love, Marilyn, Emmy-nominated Bobby Fischer Against the World,There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane, and Girlhood. Her first film, The Farm: Angola, USA, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award, and won two Primetime Emmy Awards.