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Soundtrack for a Revolution -- Film Review

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A spotty execution trumpets undeniably good intentions in "Soundtrack for a Revolution," a documentary that uneasily combines a history of the civil rights movement with renditions by contemporary pop stars of the songs that rallied it.

Shortlisted for this year's Oscar documentary race, Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's film is perhaps best suited for younger audiences, who will be more receptive to a vital history lesson only if it's given a music video-style treatment.

Although the film's premise of exploring the progress of the civil rights struggle via the music that became an essential element of it is a worthy one, the filmmakers provide frustratingly little historical context. Songs are briefly mentioned by such interview subjects as John Lewis, Andrew Young, Julian Bond and Harry Belafonte; lyrics are flashed on the screen; and then we see studio footage of such musicians as John Legend, Joss Stone, Anthony Hamilton, the Roots, Angie Stone and others providing their distinctive interpretations.

Although all of the major historical touchstones are dutifully touched upon, the story of the movement itself is not handled in particularly deep fashion, which is not surprising considering the film's brief running time (82 minutes) and profusion of musical segments. Most of the archival footage is relatively familiar, and anyone looking for a truly comprehensive account will be better off looking elsewhere, like the award-winning public television series "Eyes on the Prize."

Still, the material packs its inevitable dramatic punch, and many of the musical performances are stirring. If it compels viewers to seek more information about its vital subject matter, then "Soundtrack for a Revolution" will have served a worthy purpose.

Opens: Friday, Jan. 22 (Louverture Films)
Production: Freedom Songs Productions, Goldcrest Films International, Wild Bunch
Directors-screenwriters: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman
Producers: Joslyn Barnes, Jim Czarnecki, Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman, Dylan Nelson
Executive producers: Danny Glover, Gina Harrell, Mark Downie, Marc Henry Johnson
Directors of photography: Buddy Squires, Jonathan Elise, Stephen Kazmierski
Editor: Jeffrey Doe
Music: Philip Marshall
No rating, 82 minutes