Mark the calendar for the April 19 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Keep On Keepin’ On, the Al Hicks-directed documentary about 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, who is helped over his terrible stage fright by his ailing mentor, jazz legend Clark Terry. Terry was Quincy Jones’ first teacher and mentor to Miles Davis. As they prepared for an elite international competition, the 89-year-old Terry saw his sight and then his health fail. While he is one of few to have played in the orchestras of Count Basie and Duke Ellington and later broke the color barrier as first African-American staff musician on NBC’s Tonight Show, the most important thing to Terry was hanging in to see Kauflin realize his dream and play his best at the competition. Jones produced with Paula DuPre’ Pesmen, latter of whom was behind the Academy Award-winning The Cove and Chasing Ice. After the festival premiere, the subjects will be there for a Q&A followed with a performance by Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove and Kauflin, who’ll follow his star docu turn by tinkling the ivories. The performance is also being produced by Jones.
RADiUS-TWC has closed a deal for worldwide rights and remake rights for Keep On Keepin’ On, the documentary about a blind piano prodigy and his mentorship by a jazz legend whose pupils included Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. The film, which is produced by Jones and Paula DuPré Pesman (who won an Oscar for The Cove), made its premiere at Tribeca, where it won the Best New Documentary Director prize for helmer Al Hicks.
The dealmaking at Tribeca is not usually memorable, but several films at the fest have bites and other sales might follow this. This was a hot property; Netflix, Sony Pictures Classics, Magnolia and Samuel Goldwyn all sparked to the documentary after its premiere. I’m told the deal was low-seven figures.
Keep On Keeping OnThe film debuted April 19 and was followed by a performance produced by Jones that included Herbie Hancock and others playing along with the film’s subject. That would be 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, who is helped over his terrible stage fright by his ailing mentor, jazz legend Clark Terry. As they prepared for an elite international competition, the 89-year-old Terry saw his sight and then his health fail. Along with teaching Jones and Davis, Terry is one of few to have played in the orchestras of Count Basie and Duke Ellington and later broke the color barrier as first African-American staff musician on NBC’s Tonight Show. The most important thing to him was hanging in to see Kauflin realize his dream and play his best at the competition.
The deal was negotiated by Dan Guando, EVP Acquisitions, and RADiUS Co-Presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego for TWC, with Josh Braun, Dan Braun, and David Koh of Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers, along with attorney Loeb & Loeb’s Erik Hyman.
The RADiUS co-presidents, who earlier this year notched the label’s first Oscar with the docu 20 Feet From Stardom, confirmed the deal. “As was the case with 20 Feet From Stardom, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to collaborate with gifted and talented musicians whose lives have been the inspiration for so many,” they said. “Through Al’s deft hand, audiences will be given a bird’s-eye view into the dynamic mentor/pupil relationship between Clark and Justin – two exceptional individuals who have persevered through adversity and overcome the hardest of obstacles. What a privilege we’ve been given to work alongside them, Quincy Jones and Paula DuPré Pesmen on Al’s completely gratifying film.”
Said TWC Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein: “The Tribeca Film Festival has always been an amazing source of upcoming talent. From Transamerica to Bully, we have been proud to be a part of the success that Bob [De Niro], Jane [Rosenthal], and MSG have created. I think this has been the festival’s best year yet, and Keep On Keepin’ On is one of the best movies TWC will be a part of.”