UPDATE (June 25): MK2 Films has exited “Louis Armstrong: The Cause of Happiness” following claims by the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation that it has no involvement in the film, and hasn’t granted producers access to Armstrong’s personal archives, which are under the org’s legal control.
MK2 Films (“Maria By Callas,” “Portrait of A Lady On Fire”) has come on board “Louis Armstrong: The Cause of Happiness,” a feature documentary exploring the many faces of the jazz music icon, and set against the backdrop of the social, cultural and political milestones of U.S. 20th century history.
Now in pre-production, “Louis Armstrong: The Cause of Happiness” is directed by Thibaut de Longeville, whose credits include the documentaries “Just for Kicks” and “The Art of Blending” with The Roots and Q-Tip. The film is co-written by Emmanuel Parent, author of “Great Black Music” and “Jazz Power.”
The documentary is being made in collaboration with the Louis Armstrong Foundation to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. As such, it will include hundreds of hours of exclusive material, including Armstrong’s personal audio recordings about his life and times, which he recorded in the privacy of his own home and on the road over the last 15 years of his life. On top of featuring a handful of Armstrong’s greatest hits, the documentary will also boast interviews with contemporary artists and entertainers like Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Dave Chappelle, among others.
“Now more than ever, in a period when the Black Lives Matter movement is starting to turn the tables, it is time to revisit the great figures of African American popular culture in a more overtly political way,” said the film’s producer Fanny Glissant who previously produced and co-directed the critically acclaimed documentary mini-series “Slavery Routes.”
Fionnuala Jamison, the head of sales at mk2 films, said the company was “thrilled to come on board a project of such timeliness and relevance, with a production team whose proven expertise on Jazz music and Black history will shed light on the lesser known aspects of the complex figure of Louis Armstrong.” mk2 films had successfully handled another theatrical music documentary, Tom Volf’s “Maria by Callas,” which had its North American premiere at Toronto.
Although he remains celebrated as one of the greatest trumpet players, jazz singers and entertainers of all times, Armstrong had during his lifetime a turbulent relationship with the African-American community. He was in particular criticised by some contemporary artists like Sammy Davis Jr. and Dizzie Gillespie who accused him of being an “Uncle Tom.”
The documentary will shed light on these lesser known aspects of Armstrong’s life, as well as showing how, “through some quiet actions, Armstrong was perhaps not just the consenting victim of systemic racism that he is too often described as being, but rather a maestro who became a virtuoso in the art of using black stereotypes to subvert their sinister intentions,” said Jamison.
“Louis Armstrong: The Cause of Happiness” is expected to be delivered in Spring 2021. Glissant and Gaël Leiblang are producing it at Elephant Doc. Besides “Slavery Routes,” Glissant’s credits also include “Orson Welles, Shadows and Lights” which was part of Cannes Classics in 2015. Leiblang, meanwhile, produced the feature documentaries “Maria by Callas” which had its North American premiere at Toronto and was sold around the world by mk2 films, as well as “Usain Bolt: The Fastest Man Alive.”