London Film Festival: six brilliant documentaries every music fan should see

Going to LFF? Don't miss these six fascinating music films showing at the festival

They say writing about music is as good as dancing about architecture. But making films about music? It’s the closest thing you’ll get to actually being involved in the creative process. Seeing the sweat on their brows. Hearing songs take shape. Witnessing those once-in-a-lifetime moments. Think Stop Making Sense, Don’t Look Back or 20 Feet From Stardom. Cinema just doesn’t get better, does it?

So, as London Film Festival rolls into town once again, we’ve rooted through the schedule to find six music-based movies you can’t afford to miss.

White Riot

Based on her 2017 short, White Riot is Rubika Shah’s documentation of Rock against Racism – a thousands-strong protest in the heart of Hackney during 1978. The gigantic party formed in opposition to the well-known musicians who had come out in support of racist views. It brought people of all backgrounds and all musical tastes together to show that Britain would not be divided by threats of the National Front and their ilk. Stuffed with electric performances from the likes of The Clash and X-Ray Spex, this is a flick for the punk obsessive. Time to dip into your wardrobe and see if you can still fit into those drainpipe jeans…

My Friend Fela

Fela Kuti wasn’t interested in entertaining his audiences. He was more concerned with opening their eyes to the world around them. Loaded with critiques of the Nigerian military dictatorship, his songs were often so controversial that his name is still a sore subject in the country today.

In My Friend Fela, Joel Zito Araújo explores just what made this man so iconic. As electric and uncompromising as some of his greatest tracks, Araújo handles one of Africa’s greatest musical icons with a deft and sensitive touch.

Miles Davis: The Birth of the Cool

In 1957, Miles Davis released Birth of the Cool and ‘cool jazz’ was born. Tasked with trying to condense this moment into two hours, NYC-born filmmaker Stanley Nelson Jr. presents a studious look at the man behind the horn. Using Miles Davis’ autobiography as its source, combined with striking archival footage and interviews, Miles Davis: The Birth of the Cool looks more at the artist than his art. But, in doing so, this enigma becomes somewhat clearer and more understandable – if a man like Miles Davis ever can be.

Western Stars

Springsteen on Broadway. Blinded By The Light. Run. It’s been a banner 12 months for big screen Boss. While you’re never short of ways to immerse yourself in Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars is, so far, the only way to experience his 19th record live.

In lieu of touring the album, this is an attempt to capture a rapturous live show available nowhere else. He is the master of building characters, with each song like its own short film, expertly orchestrated by Bruce. But beyond that, this is The Boss on top form. Cheeky, insightful, a true storyteller at work.

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Ronnie Wood is the very definition of a rock and roll star. Someone who’s been there, literally done it all and lost the t-shirt in the process. With Mike Figgis at the helm, we get to learn a little more of his storied career.

From the Jeff Beck Group right through to The Rolling Stones, there’s a lot of ground to cover, but Wood brings his usual magnetic self to a turbulent story of success and excess. One for all the dads out there.

London Film Festival best documentary

As time goes by: Ronnie Wood’s long career forms the subject of Mike Figgis’ ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’. Credit: Getty Images

Cunningham

Much like Wim Wenders’ spectacular Pina, Cunningham presents the exquisite choreography of Merce Cunningham in 3D. Luckily, Alla Kovgan’s debut feature doesn’t require you to know anything about Cunningham or his dances. So those who remain uninformed can join in too.

Even more interestingly – and rare in the realm of 3D cinema – the extra dimension adds a new level of experience to the film. It brings a depth of field that lets you explore these spaces with the dancers, unlike any other documentary you’ll see this year.

London Film Festival takes place 2-13 October