Over a decade, the two filmmakers from the UK have been piecing together a missing part (until now!) of American’s musical history, crisscrossing the USA in search of the first recorded music artists of the1920’s and their descendants. This is the first time this story has ever been told, and it’s also the last time this story can be told before everyone who was there is gone. The oldest interview was a 103 year Hawaiian musician, and the filmmakers also captured the last interviews with Robert Lockwood Jnr, Homesick James and Honeyboy Edwards. It’s astonishing. Apart from being important from a historical point of view, it is a joyful celebration of America’s rich diverse musical heritage, with some of today’s greatest musicians coming together to record on the first ever
electrical recording machine from the 1920’s.
American Epic is a series of four films which are narrated by Robert Redford, and celebrate the confluence of commercialism, innovation, music and diversity in the 1920’s. This music is what created the Big Bang of Country, the Big Bang of R’n’B and a raft of other music (including Hawaiian and Hopi !) that was a huge influence on musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan The Rolling Stone and Led Zeppelin to name a few. In fact Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen has been helping the filmmakers from the beginning as a sort of mentor to the project. The films are executive produced by Jack White, T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford.
The first three films in the American Epic series tell the never-before- told story of a great racially inclusive moment in American history, which saw
African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Appalachian folk descended from Scots and Irish, Cajuns, Hawaiians, and many other nationalities, recording music from their different cultures. Many of the recordings from this period have had an enormous influence on popular music in America and across the world, and have inspired other musicians of all races to write and record their own songs. This was “the first time American heard itself’.
The project has secured the enthusiastic participation of a superb roster of high profile artists such as Elton John, who composes a song on camera especially for the film, Steve Martin, Jack White, Beck, Ana Gabriel, Nas, and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who play together in the
fourth film, The American Epic Sessions. There will also be a nationwide schools educational outreach program, in association with PBS, and the writer and producer Alison is already guest lecturing in the US and recently presented the project at The American University in DC.
It really has to be seen to be believed. The filmmakers have gone above and beyond to preserve American’s musical history: restoring vintage photographs found in attics and basement, the earliest never before seen footage from the 20’s and 30’s and an audio restoration project over the last 6 years that has to be heard to be believed. All these things bring the stories to life in a remarkable way not customary with historical documentaries. It’s going to be on the BBC and PBS and is screening as a work in progress at a few prestigious film festivals for sales and fundraising purposes.
Why Did we Make American Epic
America Epic was made as a way of understanding how the modern world began to communicate with itself. It is the untold story of how the invention of electrical sound recording in America in the 1920s allowed American Record companies to record and market music for the first time to all the ethnic groups of America. These recordings democratized a nation and our films are the first time anyone has attempted to research document and understand this crucial event in world history. It was also the last time this film could be made before all the witnesses to that era were gone. The s series is a vehicle to pay tribute to many unsung heroes who have changed popular culture. Such as Hawaii’s Joseph Kekuku, inventor of the steel guitar, whose invention has shaped the sound of musicians from Hank Williams to Pink Floyd.
“This is America’s greatest untold story” Robert Redford
“This is more than a music documentary – this is history” Elton John.
“I have never seen such an amazing production. You will simply be blown away by the story of this project.” E.W. Stetson III, President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts