Directed by Sascha Just, Ellis is a loving portrait of one of jazz music’s most towering figures. Having lived through the Jim Crow era of New Orleans, Ellis Marsalis used his musical talent to create new fusions that redefined the genre. What’s more, through his music and teaching, Marsalis helped generations to defy the rules of segregation and racist oppression by empowering others to gain a deeper appreciation of their history and to use their voice to break boundaries.
For a man who has left such an incredible impact on the world of music, Marsalis comes across as a person of humility, wisdom, and immeasurable talent. Speaking openly about his struggles growing up and the challenges that his family faced during the time of segregation, Marsalis is open and forthright, displaying his trademark sense of humour and intelligence.
However, through interviews and old footage, Just also portrayal him as a man who’s legacy extends beyond his own musical ability. From his children to his students, Marsalis has spent a lifetime trying to teach others how to listen so that they, too, can communicate in their own musical voice. Although he’s best known for creating hybrid, jazz styles, his is a life that has shaped the hearts of countless others.
What surprises most is that Ellis chronicles the relationship between the music industry and historical trauma. From segregation and desegregation in the revolution of the 60s to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Ellisconnects the evolving music scene with the struggles of the Black community in New York and New Orleans. There is a very real recognition here that social struggles impact its cultural and musical voice and thus, the impact that creativity can have on a community. From music to filmmaking, Ellis recognizing the cathartic and healing nature of the arts. There is a beauty in speaking into the culture through creativity through the arts that echoes beyond any particular album or story. (At one point, Marsalis even refers to it as a spiritual act.) In Ellis, Just captures this tension and recognizes the importance of sharing our struggles through storytelling of all types.
Ellis premieres at DOC NYC on Thursday, November 10th, 2022.