MUBI is exclusively showing Joel Wanek's Sun Song (2013) from November 21 - December 20, 2016 in the United States.
How do you know I'm real? I'm not real. I'm just like you. You don't exist in this society. If you did people wouldn't be seeking equal rights. You're not real. If you were you'd have some status among the nations of the world. So we're both myths. I do not come to you as a reality, I come to you as a myth because that is what black people are: myths. I came from a dream that the black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors. I’m going to be here until I pick out some of you to take back with me.
Sun Song is my love letter to the mystic/musician/philosopher Sun Ra. The film takes it's title from one of Ra's earliest LPs of the same name. Although the music on Ra's Sun Song is quite melodic, much of his later work became more dissonant, often exploring non-traditional sounds and song structures. As he took his music 'out', the song titles also reflected a kind of departure. We Travel the Spaceways, Rocket No. 9 Take Off for the Planet Venus, Next Stop Mars, and Worlds Approaching are just a few that suggest this leaving of planet Earth and returning to where he came from that Ra spoke so often of.
Sun Song is also a product of two years spent working in and around the public transit system in Durham, North Carolina from 2011-13. This was my second stint living and working in Durham. I had lived there for most of 1998 and had done a lot of street photography along East Main Street, the largely black and non-Duke University side of town. In my initial time in Durham, I could sense some tense, difficult energy but I just couldn't figure out what the root of it was. When I returned in 2011, that feeling still persisted.
The more I lived and worked in Durham, the more vividly I began to see that many legacies of slavery and racism were alive and well. It was evident in the long lines of mostly black residents that form every day in front of City Hall to argue or pay tickets and fines, in the statue that honors the Confederate Army which sits in front of the Durham County Seat, and on public transportation where eight out of every ten riders are black (even though Durham's population is equal parts black and white). As a result, I kept thinking more and more about Sun Ra, particularly the last sentence in the quote above, as I worked in Durham's central bus station.
So, I began the shooting of Sun Song with the thought that I wanted to create a film that presents a city bus bound for a distant planet or star. Instead of just traveling from one stop to another within the city, I wanted to imbue the work with the idea that this bus full of black people was leaving this world once and for all, this world that Ra referred to as a “prison” for the black man. To further honor Ra, I wanted this bus to be traveling towards the Sun.
My intention was to make all of this quite subtle, so that the film would be very open and allow many different interpretations. As you watch, I hope you form your own narratives, ideas, and take your own trip. For me, that is one of the greatest abilities of cinema: transforming the everyday into something larger than life, and, perhaps, even into something mythical.