Melissa Haizlip’s award-winning documentary, “Mr. Soul!”, has now been nominated for Outstanding Debut Feature at the Cinema Eye Honors. According to the awards group, which has been annual honoring nonfiction work since 2007, over 65% of its nominees this year are first-timers. “Women filmmakers and craftspersons made up 44% of today’s announcements, a record for Cinema Eye, and female directors scored more nominations overall than their male counterparts across all categories for the first time,” revealed Cinema Eye in an official statement. The awards ceremony will be held virtually on March 9th, 2021.
The film chronicles the legacy of “SOUL!”, the public television variety show produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip (the director’s uncle) that turned a spotlight on the Black Arts Movement. Enhancing the picture are music composed by Grammy-winner Robert Glasper as well as narration from Blair Underwood, who also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. In his four-star review of the film published on this site, our critic Glenn Kenny wrote that “the clips from the show—and seriously, can someone assemble the entire series and get it on streaming, or physical media somehow—reveal it as a phantasmagoria of Black excellence.”
Representatives of the Black Arts Movement who appeared on the show were timeless talents the likes of Sidney Poitier, The Last Poets, Gladys Knight, Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Al Green, Muhammad Ali, Cicely Tyson, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Ashford and Simpson, Roberta Flack, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Billy Preston, Black Ivory, The Delfonics, Bill Withers, Nikki Giovanni, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Sonia Sanchez, Wilson Pickett, Odetta, Merry Clayton, Mandrill, Kool and the Gang, Toni Morrison, Kathleen Cleaver, Betty Shabazz, Stokely Carmichael, Mrs. George Jackson, George Faison and Patti Labelle. During a time period when African-Americans were not routinely featured prominently on television except in negative stereotypes, this program blazed new trails for representation during its run from 1968 through 1973.
The film’s distributors Shoes In The Bed Productions and Open Your Eyes & Think MF are proud to announce the continuing virtual cinema release in over 30+ cinemas celebrating its fourth month in release (for a full list of showtimes, click here). This September also marked the 52nd anniversary of the premiere episode of SOUL! on September 12, 1968. From that day forward, Ellis Haizlip and his inclusive crew of Black and mostly women producers, directors, crew and guest artists made history every week. And now, through this film, Ellis still continues to inspire and instill pride into new generations of fans. As he states in the film, “Black seeds keep on growing,” the time is now, and is most important.
“It’s been beautiful to see and hear from viewers around the nation who are both entertained and uplifted by our film, as well as surprised and inspired as they discover ‘Mr. SOUL!’,” said director Haizlip. “Sharing my uncle’s story and the legacy of his groundbreaking show is super important right now. As we head into our fourth month of streaming, what an incredible gift — it allows more people in this pivotal moment to discover Ellis Haizlip’s life and the impact that ‘SOUL!’ had on our country, then and now. Ellis Haizlip is really an unsung hero whose voice we need now more than ever, to help restore the SOUL of a nation. And now, for our film about his work to be recognized with this Cinema Eye Honors nomination, I am beyond humbled and grateful for this incredible honor, Cinema Eye is the most discerning of all the nonfiction awards, so this nomination bears extra weight, and I’m so happy for our team. This continues to be an amazing journey for the film.”
Melissa Haizlip is a dynamic emerging filmmaker who has earned many accolades for her films, including the Chaz and Roger Ebert Producing Fellowship through PROJECT INVOLVE at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. “Mr. SOUL!” won the Best Music Documentary at the IDA Documentary Awards, the Best Feature Documentary at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, the Audience Award for Best Feature at the AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, D.C., the Audience Award at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, the Meta Award at the Dallas Videofest/Docufest and made a splash at the BFI London Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.
Upcoming screenings for “Mr. Soul!” include a watch party and virtual Q&A with The Museum of Tolerance on Tuesday, December 29th, at 6pm CT, and a virtual Q&A with the African Diaspora Film Club at MoAD on Sunday, January 10th, at 7pm CT, where Haizlip will be in conversation with California Newsreel co-director/MoAD film series curator Cornelius Moore. In the video embedded below, you can watch the historic Q&A held on December 2nd, “Film Independent Presents: Mr. Soul!”, hosted by Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, creator and actor, Lena Waithe.
NOTE: Chaz Ebert is also an executive producer of the film.
Header image caption: Ellis Haizlip and the JC White Singers. Photo by Alex Harsley in 1971.