I was ecstatic when I saw THE RUSSIAN WINTER featuring musician John Forte (The Fugees) would be included in Tribeca Film Festival online streaming collection. A big thank you to producer Dream Hampton for sharing the heads up via Twitter. My final thoughts from the film: God, this is really what second chances can mean! I saw the whole documentary as an invitation to Forte’s rebirth as a singer/songwriter and a free man. Yes, you get a clear idea that he hit the big times working with The Fugees and the artist/fans in Russia were very familiar with his work. The most intimate moment to me was when Forte described finding music again while imprisoned. One guitar allowed him to hear his voice for the first time and suddenly he transitioned from arranger to frontman. Side note: Did you know that Carly Simon was one of Forte’s biggest supporters for getting him out of prison? Me neither.
I was also fascinated with the perception of Forte while he was abroad. Russia’s already a pretty white place in the winter and to see this Black man with very long dreads that doesn’t speak much Russian was one thing. But when the cameras flipped onto the onlookers, that’s when it clicked for me just how much he stood out. John comments on that in a very tense scene with a dispute over an orchestra arrangement. It was definitely one of my favorite scenes. Not only does John explain that he clearly understands all of the stigma attached to him as a Black man in the US, but also just how much hesitation and tact he must present himself with in this foreign space.
Overall, it was beautiful that the music not only saved him, but also brought him on a journey to challenge perception, collaborate with new artists and even a host a concert for charity. THE RUSSIAN WINTER is everything a documentary (even perhaps all films) should be. It features a great subject, hypnotic soundtrack and a beautiful backdrop not often showcased. Hopefully it will headed to Netflix, iTunes and theaters after its run on festival circuit.