“Teddy Pendergrass – If You Don’t Know Me,” the upcoming feature documentary that tells the tumultuous life story of the R&B and soul legend, will go out on Showtime in the U.S. and Sky Arts and the BBC in the U.K., where Moviehouse will also handle a theatrical release.
The film will premiere at the Philadelphia Film Festival on Friday as part of a festival run that includes DOC NYC and Sound Unseen in Minneapolis. An exclusive first-look can be seen below.
Producer and director Olivia Lichtenstein made the film through U.K.-based factual TV and film banner Storyvault Films. It came about after she watched watching “Supermensch,” Mike Myers’ movie about Hollywood power player Shep Gordon, who was also Pendergrass’ manager. “I called Shep and said, ‘People don’t remember Teddy the way they ought to, and I have to make this film,’ and Shep said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Lichtenstein recalled.
Gordon duly came on board as an exec producer, alongside two of Pendergrass’ other managers, Daniel Markus and Allan Strahl. BBC Films has also boarded as a production partner, alongside Tempo Entertainment and Wasted Talent. Kew Media, which just launched another major music feature documentary, “Chuck Berry,” is handling sales and will have shop “Teddy Pendergrass – If You Don’t Know Me” at the AFM.
Lichtenstein, a BAFTA-winner, said she decided that the voices in the film had to be of people personally acquainted with Pendergrass, who died in 2010, “to make it feel as visceral and alive as possible.”
Pendergrass found success as the lead singer of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, with hits including “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” He went on to record several hit solo albums in the U.S. On the verge of even greater stardom, Pendergrass was paralyzed after a car accident. He went on to sing again and record five more albums.
“It works on lots of levels,” Lichtenstein said. “It’s interesting because of the music. It’s interesting because of the time. There was this issue of being a crossover artist, this ridiculous distinction between black and white music.”
The filmmaker and former BBC exec adds that the accident prevented Pendergrass from becoming an even bigger mainstream star. “I think that’s why people don’t know him in the same way as a Marvin Gaye or a Luther Vandross,” she said. “What I hope is he’ll get to crossover now, with the film.”
The producers hope that the feature will attract existing fans and bring Pendergrass’ story and music to a new generation. “The way he sings is so authentic it can’t fail to touch you, whatever your age and whatever generation you are from,” Lichtenstein said. “Danny Markus, when he saw a cut of the film, said, ‘You let him sing again,’ which is something we wanted to achieve, so it was nice to feel that has worked.”