The Drum Also Waltzes: In Search of Max Roach

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: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


The Drum Also Waltzes explores the life of drummer/composer/activist Max Roach—his creative triumphs, bold cultural activism, and times of tragedy and challenge.


The Drum Also Waltzes: In Search of Max Roach explores the life of the brilliant drummer, activist, composer, who pushed at the boundaries of American music and social activism across seven decades--from the era of the Jim Crow south, to the Civil Rights years, to hip hop and beyond.


We feel a film about Max Roach should take inspiration from his creative approach: thoughtful, carefully crafted, aesthetically innovative. Max Roach lived a life of constant personal and creative reinvention, in a time of intense artistic foment, cultural and social upheaval. From the late 1930s through the 1990s he created a series of different versions of himself, shifting and re-inventing his art, relationships, persona. It was perhaps his way of surviving and thriving when so many of his peers, tragically, did not. The film will explore Max Roach through a series of chapters, each visiting a different “Max”. In each chapter we’ll see him innovating anew, as well as contending with the often challenging, sometimes dangerous realities of life as an uncompromising African American artist. Some of these chapters are marked by creative achievement and joy, others by dark tragedy. To tell this story, the film will draw from these strands of material: I. Filmmaker footage and audio from 1980s-2000s Production of The Drum Also Waltzes traces back nearly 30 years, when Sam Pollard was editing a film about Langston Hughes and came across footage of Max Roach performing solo. Right then, Pollard decided to make a film (his first) about Max Roach. He filmed Roach extensively in the 1980s-90s on 16mm, on the road and in the studio, with a fascinatingly diverse range of musical settings. Also during the 1980s and 90s, co-director Ben Shapiro produced two hour-long NPR documentaries about Roach, recording over five hours of detailed biographical recollections with him. Shapiro also spoke at length with Dizzy Gillespie, singer (and wife at the time) Abbey Lincoln, drummers Elvin Jones, and Paul Motian and more. II. The Max Roach Archive at the Library of Congress From the 1940s to his death in 2007, Roach maintained an archive unique among his peers: home movies and unreleased concert recordings, thousands of; artworks and posters; performance contracts, musical scores, and more (his is 8th grade report card shows he got a ‘D’ in music). We have an agreement with Max Roach’s family for unlimited use of this archive, and to date have culled approximately 1000 images alone. III. Archival Footage There is a rich body of archival footage of performances and interviews dating back to the mid-1950s (his first on-camera interview was shot then Paris for French), as well as a number of television documentary shows and segments. IV. New Footage We have interviewed many of Max’s close collaborators and friends including Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins, Questlove, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sonia Sanchez (a key figure in the Black Arts movement of the 60s-70s and a close personal friend), cultural historian Guthrie Ramsey, legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and pianist Randy Weston (a lifelong friend who grew up with Max Roach in Bedstuy, Brooklyn in the 1930s). We are also filming impressionistic images from the varied places he lived his life, seeking an additional link between present day and his experiences in decades past.


Sam Pollard - Co-director/co-producer
Co-director Sam Pollard is an accomplished feature film and television editor, and documentary producer/director whose work spans almost thirty years. He was producer of the Blackside series Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads, and I'll Make Me A World: Stories of African-American Artists and Community, which received The George Peabody Award. Mr. Pollard has produced/directed feature-length documentaries including: Slavery by Another Name (PBS), August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand (PBS/American Masters), Two Trains Runnin’, The Talk: Race in America (PBS and CPB). His latest film Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me for American Masters premie`red at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Together with Spike Lee, Mr. Pollard co-produced Four Little Girls, about the 1963 Birmingham church bombings, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and When The Levees Broke, that received a Peabody and three Emmy Awards.

Ben Shapiro - Co-director/co-producer, cinematographer
Co-director Ben Shapiro is an award-winning documentary maker working in film, television and radio/podcasts. His feature-length documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters about the renowned photographer premiered at South by Southwest, went on to international release to theaters and broadcast, and was named a NY Times ‘Critics Pick’. Among other awards he received an Emmy and two Peabody Awards. Shapiro’s audio documentary projects include the hour-long Jazz Profile: Max Roach (NPR), Mandela: An Audio History which received a DuPont Award. For over 20 years he has been editor and a co-producer of Radio Diaries, a series of first-person audio documentaries on NPR.


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