WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ENRIQUE SÁNCHEZ LANSCH
FEATURE DOCUMENTARY, 90/52 min., 2019
A famous American singer wants to change the world through his art, but gets trapped between the Cold War's super powers. Overnight he turns from a huge star into a public enemy in the US and is not allowed to leave his own country. At the same time, he is celebrated in the Soviet Union and used as a propaganda tool all over the Eastern Bloc.
A man, an artist, an American of African descent – a complex and charismatic person…
This is PAUL ROBESON, about as old as the century in the 1940s, a world-famous and successful singer and actor, performing and travelling world-wide. He is also a civil rights activist, singing, speaking and acting against injustice, discrimination and racial oppression in America as well as Europe, using the power of his voice and body to communicate this message. A newspaper article on his speech at the Paris Peace Conference in 1949, portraying him as being seemingly in favour of the Soviet Union and therefore anti-American, this twist of words, leads to a public outcry in the US and ends in the withdrawal of his passport, by the direct orders of Edgar J. Hoover. Soon after, his concerts and sale of records are cancelled, effectively making him a person non-grata in his own country. Robeson fights for eight years to get his passport back, supported by international protest, mainly from European countries. When he finally succeeds in acquiring his passport in 1955, it seems like a victory, but in reality, he and his name have suffered greatly throughout this struggle.
Through newly discovered archive footage, the film explores the untold story of a world star’s development as a politically active artist in close connection with his involvement with Britain and Continental Europe, and the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries. The film shows how living in London and travelling through Europe shapes Robeson’s political views. Speaking out makes him apparently so dangerous to the US that they deprive him of his freedom to travel and try everything to silence him. But the film also reveals how Eastern Bloc countries support Robeson as he is increasingly victimized in the US - yet in parallel exploiting him extensively for propaganda means.
In 2017, in view of the recent political development in the US, Europe and the world, we see Paul Robeson’s story in a different light – through the images of the archive material and his impressing voice, we discover a modern man who had to face a situation that seems to repeat itself today for many artists and other citizens, though in a quite different way. He holds a mirror through which we can take a different perspective on ourselves and how we take a stand in the political situation of today.
Director/author: Enrique Sánchez Lansch
Producer: Sarita Sharma (Kinomaton)
Coproducers: Christian Popp (Yuzu Films)
World sales: Wide House