Berlin, Germany, 9 February 2017: StoryVault Films, Tempo Productions and Wasted Talent are on board to produce Teddy Pendergrass: If you don’t know me, a feature length documentary on legendary American R&B artist, Teddy Pendergrass, to be directed by award-winning Olivia Lichtenstein (The Silent Twin: Without My Shadow, Broadmoor and Who Killed Kirsty MacColl?), it was announced today.
Ahead of its April production start date, Content Media have signed on to handle international sales. Content’s President of Film Jamie Carmichael and EVP Sales and Distribution, Jonathan Ford, will be having early discussions introducing the documentary to buyers at the ongoing European Film Market in Berlin.
The film is being produced by Lichtenstein via her television production company, StoryVault Films, in association with Tempo Productions’ Piers Tempest (upcoming Churchill, The Wife) and Wasted Talent’s Ian Flooks (Killing Bono, Robot Overlords).
BBC Films is co-financing Pendergrass with acting head of BBC Films, Joe Oppenheimer, serving as executive producer alongside Pendergrass’ former manager Shep Gordon, Daniel Markus and Allan Strahl.
“Everyone knows his voice – Don’t Leave Me This Way, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Love … and a score of other instantly recognisable and much-covered classics – but all too many have forgotten the extraordinary story of the man behind it – and his unique contribution to the history of popular music and his courageous triumph over adversity,” said Olivia Lichtenstein.
“From Olivia’s earliest pitch, we knew that this was a story demanding to be told. We’re delighted to back her ambition to bring Teddy Pendergrass’ extraordinary talent and remarkable life to cinema audiences everywhere,” said the BBC’s Joe Oppenheimer.
Content’s Carmichael and Ford said, “this is a really powerful human story, backed up by a unique musical angle – we’re really excited to introduce this important project to our friends in distribution.”
The iconic singer, also known as the “Black Elvis,” was raised in poverty in Philadelphia and rose to fame in the early ‘70s as the lead singer for the band Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. After achieving global success with hits such as ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ and ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” Pendergrass launched his solo career and recorded classic songs including ‘Love T.K.O’ and ‘Turn Off the Lights.’ He became the first black male singer to record five consecutive multi-platinum albums in the US.
In 1982, at the age of 31, the singer was left paralysed following a car accident and retired from the public eye for three years. He eventually returned to the stage and recorded Top Ten R&B hits and gold albums into the ‘90s including ‘Love Language,’ which included hit single, ‘Hold Me,’ featuring Whitney Houston. Pendergrass died in 2010 following respiratory failure.
The filmmakers will interview his family, friends, and industry legends including his mother, Ida, and three children, Teddy Jnr, Tisha and LaDonna, as well as producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, creators of the ‘Philadelphia Sound,’ sole surviving member of the Blue Notes’ Lloyd Parks, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and LaToya Jackson.
With rarely seen archive footage and a soulful soundtrack, the documentary will capture Pendergrass’ rise to fame against the backdrop of the American civil rights movement and his victorious comeback after his life-changing accident.
Olivia Lichtenstein has produced and directed several award-winning documentaries including the BAFTA-award winning The Silent Twin: Without My Shadow and as former editor of BBC’s television documentary strand, Inside Story, she also directed Tongue-Tied, which won The Grierson Award. In 2012, she joined as partner of Storyvault Films and projects she has directed include Broadmoor for ITV and Melyvn Bragg: Wigton to Westminster for BBC2.