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Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love Screens at Telluride Film Festival

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This is the second in a series of stories from the 2008 Telluride Film Festival that is held over the Labor Day weekend. Offerings will include "Sneak Reviews," a quick look at a film screened the previous night; "High on Telluride," highlights of some of the group discussions and celebrity appearances; and "Festival Buzzwords," focusing on what's getting the most attention — good or bad — throughout the weekend.

Film: Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, a documentary that combines concert performances from Dublin to Paris to New York City’s Carnegie Hall, family photos, interviews, newsreel footage and picture-postcard views of Africa to paint a complex but highly entertaining and emotional portrait of one of Time’s “100 most influential people” in the world in 2007.

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, who also is the writer and co-producer.

Running time: 102 minutes.

Star sightings: Youssou N'dour, a world-renowned singer, in the tradition of the musical storyteller in Africa called griots; Peter Gabriel, a close friend of N’dour’s since their “In Your Eyes” duet on Gabriel’s 1985 album So; Neneh Cherry, performing “7 Seconds” with N’dour at the Live 8 Concert; Bono (but blink and you’ll miss him).

Also appearing: Members of N'dour's family, including his brother, his parents, and in the film’s most touching scenes, his grandmother, who appears frail but wise beyond her years.

Youssou N'Dour movieWhat’s it all about? What happens when N'dour, the pop superstar and social activist from the West African nation of Senegal, which is 94 percent Muslim, decides in 2004 to release the pan-African album Egypt, which praises prophets and saints and gives Islam a human and smiling face. Deeply spiritual and released during Ramadan (a religious no-no), “Egypt is more than a country,” says N’dour, “it’s a concept. … a concept of coming together.”

Movie’s memorable line: “To this day, when I’m with my Dad, I feel like I’m 15 years old.” — N’dour

What you might not know: Egypt’s original release was postponed after the 9/11 attacks. At the age of 10, N’dour was inspired by Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum and the way she connected with her audiences. N’dour was initially rejected by his country for “crossing the line” by releasing Egypt during the holy month. The film was dedicated in memory of N'dour's grandmother, who was born in 1910 and died in 2006.

YNDOUR_Elizabeth Chai VasarhelyiTelluride take: A film four years in the making, I Bring What I Love's August 29 screening was the world premiere and Vasarhelyi, right, said, “We’re honored and humbled” to present it at a free screening at the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema in Elks Park. It was the first of three showings during the weekend, and all three were followed by concerts by N’dour and a three-member band, below. At the premiere, they were greeted enthusiastically by a crowd that seemed transfixed by the movie and eager to dance by the third song of the concert. After the opening night doubleheader, a 30-something woman blurted out, “That was really trippy, man!”

Youssou N'dour at Telluride

Summing it up: This is more challenging than your average rocdoc in dealing with some complex religious issues. You thought the Dixie Chicks had problems in Shut Up & Sing, Barbara Kopple’s film detailing what the country gals went through on the road and in the music industry after maligning George W. Bush? But it’s easy to understand what makes N’dour such a compelling figure, dynamic personality, and the voice of Africa.

Go here to see more photos from the Telluride Film Festival by Matt Bialas.

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