The most anticipated music movie of SXSW Film has got to be Jimi: All Is By My Side, the unconventional Jimi Hendriix bio starring Andre Benjamin that's written and directed by 12 Years A Slave Oscar winner John Ridley.
The movie, which has its American premier in Austin on Wednesday, avoids the cliches of the music biopic genre. Rather than the conventional arc of the rise and subsequent substance abuse assisted death of a doomed genius, Jimi, which is Ridley's directorial debut, focusing on the year that Hendrix spent in England before taking America by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Nearly as important to the story as Hendrix himself is Linda Keith, the Vogue model who was Keith Richards girlfriend before she met Hendrix. Played by Imogen Poots, she has a key role in urging the outrageously talented but unfocused guitarist to get his act together. It's a quiet, captivating movie, sharply edited movie, full of intuitive performances.
On Sunday, a week after he won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his adaptation of the life of Solomon Northup, Ridley was in Austin to talk up Jimi while doing prep work for American Crime, the pilot for a potential ABC series with an ensemble cast featuring Tim Hutton and Felicity Huffman. The show began shooting in Austin this week.
Ridley's inspiration for telling the story came from stumbling upon a Hendrix rarity on YouTube called "Send My Love To Linda," which the guitarist wrote for Keith. "It was one of the most powerful and emotive pieces I'd ever heard in my life," he says. "Why is he writing this song?, I wondered. Who is Linda?"
Of Benjamin, who's startling good as Hendrix, Ridley says, "I just cannot imagine anyone else in this role."
Being an Oscar winner hasn't sunk in yet, Ridley says. "To have Robert DeNiro hand you that award, to have Meryl Streep tap you on the arm, to be backstage and meet Daniel Day Lewis and Cate Blanchett, and to be only the seond person of color to win that award. There's a lot of weight that goes with that."
And what about the supposed feud between Ridley and 12 Years director Steve McQueen, who did not thank each other at the Oscars. Ridley says it doesn't exist.
"Twenty four hours earlier at the Spirit Awards, I went on and on about Steve. Steve has always been gracious to me. We were there together - we've been to a million events. In this moment when you're rushing on stage, they tell you have 30 seconds ... Steve helped make me who I am. I got no problem with him."