Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s “impressionistic” days-in-the-life drama about jazz giant Miles Davis, continued its festival tour here in Berlin today where it’s screening as a Special Gala. This is famously a film that Cheadle — who directs, stars in, co-wrote and produces — had been trying to get made for a decade. In 2014, he turned to Indiegogo to crowdsource a funding gap, ultimately raising about $370K he told the press today. Without that money, the film wouldn’t have gone ahead, but Cheadle also noted that there was another imperative.
“There are different metrics by which those who are going to spend money on films determine if it’s a good risk or not, and there is a lot of apocryphal, not proven evidence that black films don’t sell overseas. Having a white actor in this film turned out to be a financial imperative,” he explained. “It was a component of getting to a certain number that would allow us a certain budget to get the film made. It’s one of the realities of the business we’re in.”
Ewan McGregor plays a Rolling Stone writer with whom Davis conspires to steal back his own music as he bursts out of his silent period and relives the years he had with his great love Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Cheadle said he didn’t believe the narrative would have worked better without a white actor and had praise for his co-star. “I think it works great and particularly because of Ewan McGregor,” he said.
Cheadle first “bumped into” Davis’ music when he was about 10 because his parents were fans. “It was the soundtrack of my life before I realized it was what I was listening to.” He started playing saxophone in the 5th grade and took up trumpet for Miles Ahead which he now calls “the new love of my life.”
With the film, there was a desire to make a movie that “felt like Miles Davis, not a documentary. I wanted it to be explosive and exciting like his music… I wanted to be in the skin of Miles Davis and attempt to do with my craft what he did with his.”
Inspirations for the filmmaking style came from Jaco Van Dormael’s Toto Le Héro, but not necessarily directors he’s worked with in the past. He spoke with Carl Franklin, Steven Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson, among others, but “they all said the same thing: good luck,” a laughing Cheadle recounted.
Of turning to crowdfunding, Cheadle said, “It felt in a way kind of meta. Miles was about social music, connecting to the masses.” There will be a screening next month in Cincinnati which is one of the upsides for people who contributed. “We’re in the process of paying off the perks,” said Cheadle. Sony Pictures Classics opens Miles Ahead domestically on April 1.