The 18th Tribeca Film Festival will kick off April 24 with the world premiere of HBO’s The Apollo, a documentary portrait of the famed Harlem theater.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, the film blends archival and performance footage with interviews with celebrities and theater staffers to chronicle the history and legacy of the 85-year-old landmark on 125th Street. The film will air later in 2019 on HBO.
Notable interviewees in The Apollo include Patti LaBelle, Pharrell Williams, Smokey Robinson and Jamie Foxx. The film tracks a new multi-media production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as it comes to the Apollo stage. The backstage narrative enables the film to explore black lives in America and the role that art plays therein, as well as the Apollo as a broader expression of African-American achievement.
The Harlem venue has had an outsized influence on American cultural history. Its stage has hosted the likes of Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Luther Vandross, Dave Chappelle, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix and many others.
In its nearly two-decade history, Tribeca has occasionally featured narrative films on its opening night. In most years, though, and annually since 2013, it has kicked off with a documentary. This year’s curtain-raiser should have a unique feel, though, given that it will screen in Harlem, at the night’s namesake theater.
“We’re excited to finally be going uptown to play the Apollo.” said Jane Rosenthal, Co-Founder and CEO of the Tribeca Film Festival. “The Apollo gives audiences an inside look at the major role this institution has played for the past 85 years. It’s seen the emergence of everything from jazz to R&B to soul and gospel — all quintessential American music genres, and this is the time to remind people of our nation’s rich history. ”
Williams, who directed Life, Animated and the Oscar-winning short film Music By Prudence, said his new film is “about so much more than just music, it’s about how we used music and art to lift ourselves out of oppression.“ He added, “The story of the Apollo is the story of the evolution of black American identity and how it grew to become the defining cultural movement of our time.”
Lisa Cortés, Williams and Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures are producers of The Apollo. Sinclair said White Horse worked with the filmmakers for five years on the project. He called it “a joy to have the privilege of delivering Roger’s film,” and that plus the involvement of HBO and the Tribeca selection complete “the hat trick.”
Tribeca runs from April 24 to May 5.