Sundance 2011: Harry Belafonte Sings His Song

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Published January 24, 2011

SUSANNE ROSTOCK, DIRECTOR OF SING YOUR SONG.

The voice of Harry Belafonte bursts out of Catherine O’Hara’s mouth in “Day-O,” possessing her to dance around the dinner table in reluctant but powerful shimmies and hip sways with her dinner guests. In this famous scene, the characters were possessed by the bio-exorcising forces of Beetlejuice, but to me, Harry Belafonte was always responsible for the unwitting inspiration to move.

Last night, Sing Your Song, a powerful and touching documentary about the handsome “King of Calypso” and civil-rights activist who never quit, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Focusing on his life as a singer and performer in a segregated United States, the film artfully incorporates historic political footage with musical performance—the beat of the drum becomes the police-beating protestors in the Deep South.

Director Susanne Rostock, Producer Michael Cohl, and Harry Belafonte were all in attendance for the premiere. Seating 1,200 people postponed the film’s starting time, but those lucky enough to be in view of Harry Belafonte himself could try to catch the kisses he blew out to the audience.

Robert Redford could have been talking about Belafonte when he said the quote that is stamped to the header of the Sundance website: “Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.” After a lengthy standing ovation and minutes of clapping, Belafonte, 83 now, with his big smile and shiny head, took the podium with his cane. His calming voice has become smokier over the years, and he speaks with a distinguished cadence that doesn’t demand respect, but earns it. A voice from nowhere came out of me singing, “Okay, I believe you.”