SIFF Face the Music 2017 Preview: Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall

Janice Headley

Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall(USA | 2017 | 100 minutes | directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright)

Festival Screenings:Monday, May 29 at 7:00 PM - SIFF Cinema EgyptianThursday, June 1 at 4:00 PM - SIFF Cinema Uptown

When people talk about the DIY scene, it usually conjures up thoughts of the '70s punk scene, or '90s riot grrrl, but for today's generation, it applies to YouTube stars. Todrick Hall does it all himself in extravagantly-produced videos showcasing his talents as a rapper, singer, actor, dancer, director, and choreographer.

After not landing the part of the Scarecrow in NBC's The Wiz Live!, and inspired by Beyonce's visual album Lemonade, Hall decided to "DIY" his own version. The documentary Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall does just that: takes you "behind the curtain" as he, with the help of his friends, writes, records, choreographs, films, stages, and designs his self-released concept album Straight Outta Oz, promptly taking it on a nationwide tour. (Upon its release, Straight Outta Oz sat at #2 in the iTunes album charts, right between his inspiration, Beyonce, and Adele. Not too shabby for DIY.) The film shows him recording the songs in his home studio, painting his garage to use as a music video backdrop, practicing choreography, and then before you know it, the rehearsal footage becomes live footage as it all comes to life in cities across the U.S. Director Katherine Fairfax Wright comes from a background of serious documentaries, such as her 2013 debut Call Me Kuchu, which details the protest in Uganda to prevent a legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by death. Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall was surely a more fun project to work on, yet it still carried a weight: during the film's production, a mass shooting occurred at gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida; YouTube star Christina Grimmie was murdered by a gunman who opened fire as she signed autographs for fans after a show; and Straight Outta Oz itself is Hall's auto-biographical tale of growing up as a gay, black male in Arlington, Texas. (I actually used to live in Arlington; I know of what he speaks.) Hall takes his responsibility as a "role model" very, very seriously, wanting nothing more than to bring support and solace to anyone who felt like he did growing up. The film shows the importance of looking all fear in the face, and not letting it hold you back.

Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall clearly has great affection for its subject. In a post-screening chat with director Katherine Fairfax Wright earlier this week at the Egyptian Theatre, she admits getting pulled into Hall's world, loaning her clothing for video costuming, and bringing her mom in to help sew sequins. The resulting film is a loving portrait of an artist taking his own yellow brick road and creating his own definition of "fame."

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