The Secret Disco Revolution
Jamie Kastner’s documentary challenges the perception of disco as the height of kitsch, celebrating it as the soundtrack for social change.
Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.
The 1970s were once decried as the decade that taste forgot, and disco music contributed a great deal to that assessment. Jamie Kastner’s documentary challenges the perception of disco as the height of kitsch, celebrating it as the soundtrack for social change and a tool of liberation for women, homosexuals and people of colour. Tracing the roots of the movement back to the Nazi occupation of France, The Secret Disco Revolution features key cultural commentators and music makers who witnessed nights at The Paradise Factory, the impact of Saturday Night Fever, the excesses of the Studio 54 era and the reactionary rockist Disco Sucks campaign. There’s plenty of iconic pop to revel in, veering from the sublime (Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’, Evelyn Champagne King’s ‘Shame’) to the ridiculous (The Village People), and, while the sociopolitical concerns of the film are valid, there’s an intelligence and wit at play here that make for a fittingly fun experience.
I was pitching a film to Bravo, at the time an arts channel in Canada, about Harold Pinter, and the commissioning editor’s eyes glazed over. She said, ‘Nobody gives a shit about Harold Pinter anymore, how about a film on disco?’ I said, ‘OK’. I could immediately see it would be a fun, sexy era to plunge into: music, outrageous fashion... But doing a doc, even on a pop or artistic subject, needs some kind of edge, some kind of angle on the story to really sustain you through the slog of fundraising, shooting, editing... A friend sent me the first revisionist history of disco, Peter Shapiro’s Turn the Beat Around, that ascribed to the era revolutionary properties. Then, while I was in development, a second book – Alice Echols’ Hot Stuff – came out and built on these theories. And having been interested in protest and social and political upheaval myself, I was at first amused, then intrigued by these new-fangled theories about disco as a force of liberation. I began to think how much fun it would be to slap period footage of Donna Summer or Barry White against theories claiming them to be misunderstood heroes of feminism. And then I thought about how the people who were actually part of the era might have felt about how they were being interpreted. And it went from there, I was happily absorbed for the next year.
A Toronto-based filmmaker and writer whose work has received international acclaim, his first documentary Free Trade Is Killing My Mother (co-directed with Guy O’Sullivan) was soon followed by the international hit Djangomania! (which aired on both the BBC and Sundance Channel). Kike Like Me (for the BBC's Storyville strand) premiered as a Special Presentation at Hot Docs where it became the top-selling and most talked-about film of the festival. Recessionize! For Fun and Profit!, a sold-out hit at Hot Docs 2011, was made for TVO and has sold internationally. In addition to work through his company Cave 7 Productions, Kastner wrote and directed Strange Tales of the Flesh for Discovery, for which he also composed and performed satirical songs. He was a director of the top-rated History TV/Global series Ancestors in the Attic and co-wrote Comedy Gold, a three-hour doc on the history of comedy for CBC. He is currently developing a feature documentary on Jewish humour called Inside Joke, and completing a satirical fiction narrative, Shame and Scandal.
2003 Free Trade Is Killing My Mother [doc; co-d]
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