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Politically driven San Franciscan singer/songwriter Michael Franti - best known for the enlightened rap of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and his more soulful incarnation as the hard-gigging Spearhead - turns director on this documentary companion to his latest album Stay Human Vol II. This tall, tactile, dreadlocked, barefoot warrior, who's rarely seen without an acoustic guitar, is a Zen-like figure, albeit candidly revealed to suffer with depression. A melting-pot upbringing saw him given up for adoption by an Irish-German-Belgian mother who feared his ostracism by her racist family, but he ended up being raised by second-generation Finnish-Americans and his adoptive father was a violent alcoholic. The bulk of the film revolves around portraits of "amazing people I've met on my travels... who've chosen to overcome cynicism with optimism, hope, tenacity, music, and love." These range from a heroic midwife in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines and an American couple living with the husband's degenerative ALS, to students benefitting from "cradle to career" education in impoverished Port Elizabeth and the Indonesian tribe who run a sustainable bamboo factory on deforested Flores island - and whose choir move Franti to tears. Though an oddly stolid interviewer, Franti is the linking factor and if you can get past his gloopy if well-meaning fortune-cookie commentary ("We have an unlimited capacity to love... we can change the world if we value education... maybe our struggles are our greatest gift."), there is raw emotion here, too, not least when his mother has a stroke and his child's kidney disease takes a turn for the worse during filming. It remains a heartfelt piece of work that could make a decent TV series.
|Michael Franti||Michael Franti|