Lee Daniels to Direct a Documentary on New York’s Famed Apollo Theater

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Lee Daniels

Lee Daniels to direct a documentary on New York’s Famed Apollo Theater, and needs your help!

Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Precious, and creator and producer of the Fox hit series “Empire”) will direct the documentary feature film The Apollo Theater Film Project – the authorized history of New York’s famed Apollo Theater, it was announced today by White Horse Pictures’ Nigel Sinclair and Jeanne Elfant Festa.

In the spirit of the Apollo Theater’s tradition of active audience participation and in support of this documentary, Lee Daniels and Jonelle Procope, President and CEO the Apollo Theater, are jointly making an appeal to members of the public, audience-goers, and fans for film footage, home movies, photographs or other memorabilia that may have been accumulated by members of the community in the course of its more than 80 years of live performances.

Said Daniels and Procope, “We are asking members of the community who have been to the Apollo, who may have parents or grandparents or other family members or friends who have done so, to help us find any material – audience footage, photographs, or other memories that we can use in our documentary film.  We have established a website (ApolloTheaterDocumentary.com) for anyone who wants to submit. We will, of course, respect everybody’s ownership of their property.” 

The project is produced by Nigel Sinclair (George Harrison: Living in the Material World, End of Watch) and Jeanne Elfant Festa (Foo Fighters: Back and Forth), White Horse Pictures’ Director of Features and Head of Documentaries, under her Piper Cub Productions banner.

Long-established documentary financing company Impact Partners, the Europe-based StudioCanal and Universal Music Group are financing the project along with The Chicago Media Project. StudioCanal is handling international distribution. Impact’s Dan Cogan and Geralyn Dreyfous (The Hunting Ground, The Cove, Detropia), and StudioCanal’s Chairman and CEO Didier Lupfer and EVP of International Production and Acquisitions Ron Halpern (Carol, 99 Homes, Legend) are serving as executive producers. The project will be presented by the Apollo Theater and Bert Marcus Productions.

Also executive producing the film are White Horse Pictures’ Head of Production Nicholas Ferrall, Matt Jackson (End of Watch), CMP co-founders Steve Cohen and Paula Froehle, along with Ken Pelletier, Dave Knott and Jonelle Procope.

With a roster of artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater, Universal Music Group will curate the music for the documentary.

The project is being co-written by Cassidy Hartmann of White Horse Pictures, Mark Monroe (The Cove, Chasing Ice), and Shola Lynch (Free Angela and All Political Prisoners). Karen Sim (Back on Board: Greg Louganis, Watchers in the Sky) will edit the documentary.

Said Daniels, “I am honored to be entrusted with the story of this incredible American iconic institution and work with this team.  I used to go to The Apollo Theater as a kid and never in a million years would I have imagined I would be back to be doing this – it is very special for me.”

“We are all honored to be entrusted with this triumphant American story, and so fortunate that Lee Daniels has committed to lead the team. The Apollo has exerted such unprecedented influence and power on American culture, from its beginnings in 1934 to its towering presence in the 21st century. It is a story that will amaze,” said Nigel Sinclair. 

“As a New Yorker, I have always been in awe of the Apollo Theater. To see a show there is to participate in a glorious, righteous and magical history, and carry it forward into the present. Impact Partners is thrilled to be partnering with Lee Daniels, who is such an extraordinary artist, and Nigel Sinclair, one of the great producers of documentaries working today,” said Dan Cogan.  

“The Apollo’s place in world culture in this century is part of both the American journey, and the journey for all music and culture.  Lee Daniels’ stature all around the world speaks for itself, and we at StudioCanal are honored to bring to the marketplace Lee telling this tale,” said Ron Halpern.

“We are so proud to be collaborating with Lee Daniels and the entire production team on this documentary that will further illuminate the Apollo’s legacy and impact,” said Jonelle Procope. “As we continue our work with artists and audiences here in Harlem and around the globe today, we are always looking to our shared legacy as a source for inspiration.” 

StudioCanal will distribute the film in its key direct territories, France, Germany, United Kingdom, and Australia, and the company’s international sales team, led by Anna Marsh, will license the picture in the remaining international territories. StudioCanal, Impact Partners and White Horse Pictures jointly represent the US rights. 

The film will tell the story of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.  One of the most famous theaters in the world and a driving force in shaping America’s music and cultural landscape, the Apollo’s impact on the local Harlem community and the legendary musicians who performed at the historic venue is immeasurable. Its significance as a symbol of all that is great in Harlem, New York, and American culture has transcended its origin as  a place of culture and entertainment. The Apollo today is recognized as an influential center for culture and performing arts with programming across music, comedy, dance, theater and opera. The Apollo continues to build on its legacy by nurturing emerging voices and presenting ground-breaking artists across genres, both nationally and internationally.

Born out of the Harlem Renaissance, the theater became the most prized venue on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” during the time of racial segregation in the United States.  On the entertainment circuit, becoming the Harlem community’s answer to Carnegie Hall, it showcased a stunning list of renowned artists, including Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Billie Holiday.  It was a launch pad for many musical greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix, and the Jackson Five.  Today, the Apollo hosts more than 100 performances on its stages annually, including artistic offerings from around the globe, robust education and community programs, and shows by some of the most celebrated contemporary artists in the world, such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Metallica and Sam Smith.

Amateur Night at the Apollo has been running virtually every Wednesday since it premiered in 1934, and to this day remains a centerpiece of the theater’s performance schedule. The theater also continues to serve as a gathering place and focus for African Americans and all New Yorkers at times of cultural and social crisis (the Civil Rights Movement), times of community joy (the election of Barack Obama, the visit of Nelson Mandela), and times of mourning the nation’s greats (including James Brown and Michael Jackson). 

(Photo credit: WENN.com)