January 29, 2017 5:49 pm

Canadian doc on indigenous musicians wins Sundance award

Producer Catherine Bainbridge speaks after winning the World Cinema Documentary: Special Jury Award for Master Storytelling during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony in Park City, Utah, USA, 28 January 2017. The festival runs from 19 to 29 January.

George Frey/EPA

Montreal-based filmmakers Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana have won an award at the Sundance Film Festival for their documentary “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World.”

The film — which explores the often-unheralded contributions of native Americans in shaping popular song — won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling on Saturday.

The power chords from Link Wray’s 1958 banned-by-radio instrumental “Rumble,” which was an inspiration for rock guitarists who followed, kick off the documentary. Wray was a Shawnee native American but few people were aware of his background.

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Like him, many of the musicians profiled in “Rumble” either kept their heritage secret or downplayed it, fearing racist backlash.

“Rumble” had its world premiere a week ago in competition at Sundance and will air on The Movie Network later this year.

In accepting the award, Bainbridge gave a shout out to “all the indigenous experts and historians and musicians involved in making this film.”

“It was not just us,” Bainbridge said.

In the film, guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson of The Band shares childhood memories of time he spent on the Brantford, Ont.-area Six Nations of the Grand River reserve with his mother’s family. He was advised:

“Be proud you are Indian; but be careful who you tell.”

Whether the musicians in “Rumble” talked about their backgrounds or not, their heritage influenced the work, including 1920s Delta bluesman Charley Patton, “Queen of Swing” Mildred Bailey, rock legend Jimi Hendrix and guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, who worked with blues musician Taj Mahal, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones.

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Many of them agreed to appear in “Rumble” because of their friendship with the film’s executive producer, guitarist Stevie Salas.

Salas said he had no idea there were so many indigenous musicians until he was interviewed by Canadian writer Brian Wright-McLeod for his 2004 book “The Encyclopedia of Native Music.”

Through archival footage and powerful performances, indigenous artists are acknowledged as influences by more than three dozen marquee performers, including crooner Tony Bennett, funk father George Clinton, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and proto-punk legend Iggy Pop.

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