Published Sep 18, 2015Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple's new documentary Miss Sharon Jones! — the 2015 TIFF selection that profiles the critically acclaimed modern-day soul singer and her struggle to beat pancreatic cancer in 2013 and 2014 — is supposed to be a story of triumph against all odds. But the film immediately took on a different tone at its world premiere on September 11 in Toronto.
During a Q&A after the screening, Jones — who was attending the launch of the film in person — revealed that her cancer had in fact returned and that she'd begun her first round of chemo the previous Wednesday (September 9). Although her prognosis appears to be hopeful, that news will undoubtedly impact the way you watch this documentary.
Right off the bat, the low-budget indie flick familiarizes the audience with Jones' career and the long road it took to get to where she is — complete with years of performing as a wedding singer and working as a corrections officer — via a montage describing all of her triumphs and accolades thus far. From there, we find Jones at a local salon, having her beautiful braids clipped from her head before the cancer has a chance to take them away. It's a moving scene, and one that ultimately characterizes the experience of watching the rest of the film.
Few films, documentary or otherwise, capture the strength, determination and support that's needed to beat the disease quite like Miss Sharon Jones!, a film whose main focus is as important to the narrative as the people that surround her.
Filmed over the course of a year, the documentary follows Jones through every step of the treatment, shining a light on the day-to-day struggles of a working musician who makes the majority of their income on the road. Jones' sickness affects everyone around her, from band managers to those in the Dap-Kings, and although watching Jones battle the disease is inspiring, the true beauty of the film comes from watching the love and support she gets along the way, especially from the fans that greet her with opens arms when she finally returns to the stage near the end of the film.
Jones has long been called "the female James Brown" in articles across the globe, but Miss Sharon Jones! will make you realize that — whether it's strength, skill or pure perseverance — there's no one else quite like the South Carolina-bred soul singer. Here's hoping she's around for a lot longer. (Submarine Entertainment)