The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Soul's Sexiest Superstar
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Olivia Lichtenstein
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I’ve always been a fan of soul music and had recently started listening again to Teddy’s music. Then, one day, I saw the documentary, Supermensch: the legend of Shep Gordon. Shep was an über manager who had managed a fleet of huge stars, Teddy among them and there was a couple of minutes in the film about Teddy. I realised that I didn’t know Teddy’s story and I had a sudden and powerful calling that I had to make a film to tell it.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Teddy isn’t recognised and remembered as well as he should be and there is an extraordinary tale here not just of a unique musical talent, but also of tremendous triumph over adversity - his story feels almost Shakespearian.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Teddy's is a story with many twists and turns about a highly charismatic and complicated man, told against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in the USA, the war in Vietnam, corruption, murder and what it meant to be an African American in the 1960s and '70s. Themes that have as much relevance today as they did 50 years ago. I wanted all of these themes to add texture and context to Teddy's own highly eventful and dramatic life story.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Interestingly the taster tape that I made at the start of this film's journey is very much in keeping with the finished product. However, the film became more complex and richly layered as I made it and discovered more about Teddy's life.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been gratifyingly positive and the film has struck a chord with the audience. Not only do they appreciate Teddy as a singer, but they feel enormous admiration for his courage in the way he dealt with the devastating accident that changed his life forever.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Not really, it's pretty much corroborated it and justified the making of the film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I would like as many people as possible to see the film, hear the music and ensure Teddy's legacy as a great artist of the 20th Century.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
The film has been shown on Showtime in the USA and has been on release in cinemas and on SKY ARTS in the UK. It has also been at some festivals and has been bought in various territories. The ambition is to get as many people to see it as possible, so anyone who can help with that...
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I'd like it to be shown in more cinemas around the world and in many territories.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Do you know who the lead singer was of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes?
Would you like to add anything else?
There are some areas of Teddy's life which are contentious and people often ask how it felt to tackle them. I feel that the job of a documentary filmmaker is to be a truth-seeker and as such, you can’t shy away from the difficult areas. It’s always awkward asking the tricky questions, but you have a responsibility to your audience to ask the questions that they would like to hear answered. I was fortunate that the contributors to this film were open and ready to talk - it was time to tell this story and many of them felt that if they didn’t speak now, when would they?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am producing on two other feature-length documentaries and waiting for the compelling 'pull' to direct another film for myself.
Interview: June 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don't Know Me
The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Soul's Sexiest Superstar
Director: Olivia Lichtenstein
Producer: Ian Flooks and Piers Tempest
Writer: Olivia Lichtenstein
About the writer, director and producer:
OLIVIA LICHTENSTEIN is a multi award-winning documentary filmmaker (BAFTA, Grierson, RTS, CableAce). She has had a distinguished career in television and is the former editor of BBC television’s flagship documentary strand, Inside Story. Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don't Know Me is her first theatrical documentary. It has been shown to great acclaim on Showtime in the U.S. and is on release in cinemas in the U.K.
IAN FLOOKS started the talent agency, Wasted Talent in 1979 with bands such as The Talking Heads, The Police, The Clash, REM and U2. Wasted Talent now produces movies, which include Confetti , Killing Bono and Robot Overlords.
PIERS TEMPEST is the founder of Tempo Productions. He produced Like Minds starring Eddie Redmayne and Toni Collette which filmed in Australia and Yorkshire. Other credits include Killing Bono, Grabbers, Robot Overlords, Churchill and The Wife, starring Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater.
Key cast: Olivia Lichtenstein, Director; Piers Tempest, Ian Flooks, Olivia Lichtenstein, Producers; Nick Bedu, Co-Producer; Riaz Meer, Film Editor
Looking for: film festival directors, buyers, distributors
Facebook: Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don't Know Me
Hashtags used: #Teddypendergrass #Ifyoudontknowmemovie #teddypendergrassdocumentary #teddypendergrassmovie
Made in association with: BBC Films, Wasted Talent, Tempo Productions and Storyvault Films
Funders: BBC FILMS and private investors
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? San Francisco Black Film Festival/San Francisco - June 2019; Melbourne Documentary Festival - July 2019