The Sound of Us, a new music documentary from Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated director and producer Chris Gero, received its first official trailer on Thursday.
The film, which features interviews with Patti Smith, Ben Folds, Jason Mraz, Sarah McLachlan, and more, is set to receive the Movie That Matters Award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival later this week.
Shot over the course of two months across five countries during the Covid-19 pandemic last year, The Sound of Us celebrates the power of songwriting and musical performance in times of crisis.
“Like many of us, I struggled to make sense of the division and divisiveness that senselessly began to accelerate during this last year and a half,” Gero tells Rolling Stone. “The Covid pandemic, political tensions, and social injustice catapulted me to a continual state of doomscrolling in hopes I could somehow wrangle control of all of it and shake loose the common decency and dignity for each other we somehow lost along the way.”
Gero describes one evening last summer in which his 11-year-old son “confronted me about what was and is happening in the world, and suggested that I make a film about the goodness of people through the eyes of music.”
“It was then that I realized I had an obligation to him, and to every person who watches the film, to show that through music we are all the things we could ever hope to aspire to as humans,” the director says.
Filming an international documentary during a pandemic didn’t come without its challenges: According to Gero, the film was originally set to feature more A-list musicians and celebrities, but as interviews were repeatedly canceled due to Covid-19 restraints, the production shifted focus to everyday people who have devoted their lives to music. The ongoing George Floyd protests throughout the world also affected the film’s perspective on music as a tool for activism and reclamation.
“The entire ‘Strange Fruit’ segment featuring Avery*Sunshine was my direct response to the protests and the killing of George Floyd,” Gero says. “By reintroducing a song that is so significantly poignant and historically part of the black culture bedrock, we are reminding new generations of the sad journey for equality that black people and other people of color still continue to search for. It represents how far we have come forward only to fall backward again. In my eyes, and the eyes of many others, the rope is just replaced with a knee on a neck.”
Another poignant scene in The Sound of Us features Sekou Andrews’ “reassessment” of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” and was the last segment that was filmed due to the complexity of its production. Gero observes: “‘Amazing Grace’ is a piece of music that I find personally so beautiful and inspiring, yet I also marvel at how it connects all of us together through its own history and journey. Many people do not know its very dark past and have no idea that John Newton — the man who wrote the original hymn (not the music) — was himself a slave trader and his journey to finally denouncing slavery took nearly 40 years.”
Even after Newton’s homeland of England abolished slavery in 1807, the hymn found popularity amongst revival singers during the Second Great Awakening in the United States and was subsequently passed on from white, Christian slave owners in the American South to their enslaved workers. “Sekou’s brilliant interpretation inspires us to acknowledge the song’s past and to reinterpret its meaning in equality,” Gero says.
Above all, Gero hopes that the film will lead to more appreciation for music education and its importance in a variety of circumstances.
“The Sound of Us reminds us all that we are better together, and that music-making makes us all human and breaks down the walls we all create in life,” he says. “This film demonstrates the simply remarkable goodness in people through music and I am honored to bring these stories to the world.”