Here in the Netherlands, May 5 sees the public Liberation Day holiday (Bevrijdingsdag), where the country comes together in marking the end of its Nazi occupation during World War 2. Preceding Liberation Day comes the equally reflective Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdenking), which remembers all those who have died in conflicts since the end of World War 2.
In honour of these important dates on the Dutch calendar, we have put together a list of 10 music documentaries that deal with, discuss, or shine a light on the topic of “liberation”. Not conflict specific films, but those that follow an overall theme of liberation, whether they be personal, creative, cultural, ideological, or any other version of freedom from oppressive forces.
Beats of Freedom
Subtitled How to Bring Down a Totalitarian Regime with the Aid of a Home-made Amplifier, Wojciech Słota and Leszek Gnoiński’s Beats of Freedom focuses on how the rock music scene in Poland reinforced the country’s sense of independence from its post-war trauma through the fall of communism.
Anoosh and Arash, aka Blade & Beard, are two Iranian DJs who were forced to find a new career, and life, in Europe due to the country’s ban on house and techno music by its morality police. A mostly mobile phone shot film, tracing a most crucial part of the duo’s lives, Raving Iran ultimately becomes a story of endurance and courage in the face of authoritarianism.
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
The story of Russian Punk band Pussy Riot is well documented. Having become an international symbol against authoritarianism, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer very much reinforced the cultural place of the ski balaclava-wearing trio. Following the band’s arrest of grounds of religious hatred, and its ensuing trial of international attention, a bonafide modern icon was born.
The story of the inspirational rise of the first Afghan metal band and their tragic fall under the weight of the ultra-conservative society surrounding them.
Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon
Shot in Lagos, Nigeria in 1982, Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon follows the prophetic African musician at the peak of his career. A concert film and an insightful guide to African music, and the themes and motivations behind it, Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon offers the thoughts of the legend himself, expounding on everything from politics to Pan-Africanism, music to religion, all to the irresistible Afrobeat groove he created.
Soundtrack to War
A poignant look at war and its toll on the human condition, Soundtrack to War showcases impromptu musical performances from battle-scarred soldiers. With several scenes showcased in the more-prominent Michale Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, Soundtrack to War nevertheless paints the more human side of young people thrown into a misguided and devastating situation where music may very well be their only salvation from their current problems and impending traumas.
A different kind of liberation, Liberation Day follows the ex-Yugoslavian rock band Laibach as they are invited to play a concert in Pyongyang, North Korea. The concert comes on the secretive country’s liberation day holiday with the film following the band from its arrival to concert day, while presenting an interesting picture and insight into North Korea, its difficulties, dangers, and volatility with the rest of the world.
Both a story of creative freedom and the price of fame, Once Aurora follows Norwegian pop sensation Aurora Aksnes as she tours the world in support of her first album. Once a reclusive, rural teenager, Aurora’s op superstardom catapulted her into the cutthroat world of the international music business, misogyny, template pushing, and all. However, besides the struggles and warts, Aurora’s passion for music propels her through the tough times carving out a career all her own.
Paris is Burning
What can be said about this classic documentary that hasn’t already? A proper classic of the genre that traces the New York City African American and Latinx Harlem Ballroom scene of the 1980s, Paris is Burning is the multi-layered narrative of many documentarians’ dreams. Both a portrait of a subculture and the snapshot of an era, Paris is Burning is the ultimate depiction of how a free and open community can aid in healing the traumas of bigotry.
Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation
Not the legendary Woodstock documentary from Martin Scorsese, but a 2019 epic on the seminal music festival and generation-defining event from filmmaker Barak Goodman. Capturing the freedom of a generation and the passion of a community Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation takes the first hand, POV approach in creating a complete picture of the events enduring legacy.