Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Film Review by: BrianPenn
In such uncertain times we might imagine the more carefree days of summer music festivals. However, the Porretta Soul Festival would not immediately spring to mind. Italian Graziano Uliani was inspired by an event in Georgia to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Otis Redding’s death, and decided to dedicate a festival in his honour. And so the festival was born in 1988 at Porretta Terme in Bologna. It has now become an annual event in the third week of July at a park renamed in honour of legendary Stax artist Rufus Thomas. The Festival now draws in soul fans from all over the world who view Porretta as an annual pilgrimage.
A Soul Journey features the festival and interviews with performers who explain how important the event is to them. What’s remarkable about Graziano Uliani is that he appears not to speak a single word of English. Yet, he has a passion for music performed in a language he cannot understand. This is the essence of music and its universal appeal. Much like the opera we don’t need to understand Italian to appreciate its emotional impact. The Festival has hosted genuine legends of soul including Solomon Burke, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett and Mavis Staples. However, as time marches on, many artists have sadly died or become too ill to perform. Etta James was due to perform at the festival in 2012 but died six months before the event took place.
The artists that now gather are a dwindling band of performers who are still able to carry the torch. However, the Festival does occasionally uncover lost legends of soul. For example Spencer Wiggins, a major exponent of deep soul was working as an insurance agent when Uliani coaxed him back to the live stage. Many performers now find Porretta a more fulfilling experience than playing concerts in Memphis; the very cradle of American rhythm and blues. Director Marco Della Fonte demonstrates the healing power of music and how it is a force for good. Proof that cultural appreciation can be found in the most surprising places.