Home Leisure & Sports Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive documentary blesses the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival

Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive documentary blesses the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival

Gloria Gaynor stars in Gloria Gaynor I Will Survive documentary. (photo by Dwight Brown)

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“You think I’d lay down and die? Oh no, not I, I will survive.” The lyrics to the song ‘I Will Survive,’ which won the only Grammy for Best Disco Recording in 1980, could also be words written on the first page of Gloria Gaynor’s diary.

She’s lived that song. And there she was, after the premiere of her bio/documentary Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive, singing on stage at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. A legend, icon, and soul survivor watched her life story play out on the screen. She had to feel proud of herself and the audience was happy to watch her bask in the glow.

Wisely, TV producer turned first-time documentary director Betsy Schechter doesn’t just assemble a photo collage and videography of Gaynor’s history. Instead, she also charts Gaynor’s years-long quest to make a gospel LP. Viewers are reminded of her storied career, experience her life journey and watch a protagonist fight an entrenched music industry that compartmentalizes artists. She’s evolving from the disco to the praise worship genre. Regardless.

The facts are cataloged. Abandoned by her father, raised by a single mom, molested and sexually abused as an adolescent then married to a man who spent her into poverty. You want to root for her as she goes to college, struggles to find her place in the world of Christian music, and shows everyone that at age 80 she’s lived through the good times, survived the worst and risen again.

A recent Donna Summer documentary catalogued her life story but felt trite. This doc feels rich because its central focus is a very wise, educated woman who shares what she’s learned and dispensed it in profound, philosophical streams of thoughts, e.g.: “Kids don’t know they’re poor, if they’re loved.” She learned lessons from her upbringing and a mom who made her feel whole. She also understands the virtue of staying focused and on course as she turns her career around. That’s manifested by her determination to finish her long-gestating gospel album, without detours: “If you’re going from Florida to New York, you don’t have to go by way of California.”

There are glimpses of Gaynor at her peaks, being feted as an international star—her valleys; touring with no band; singing backed only by a CD; recovering from a debilitating back injury; star singer in several bands; working with Clive Davis; losing her contract and remerging with a disco hit that would become her anthem. It’s all on view. Gaynor recollects her own story. Her manager, producer, relatives and others fill in the gaps. Photos, footage, TV interviews and a toe-tapping playlist provide a steady verve that will keep music fans, baby boomers and fellow survivors engaged for 99 minutes.

The film’s most touching scene is when Gaynor visits a school in Valencia, Spain that has struggled. Her song ‘I Will Survive’ contributed to the students finding hope, determination, and triumph. Gaynor arrives as the prophet, lauded, accepted, and loved—demonstrating that a singer, person, and song can empower others.

That ministry of positivity is what she brought to the stage on June 9 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Moviegoers saw her life story on screen and reveled in the combination of film and live disco and gospel music by the two-time Grammy winner.

The film was the preamble, a heartfelt, inspiring documentary about an iconic soul survivor.

Then Gloria Gaynor took the stage and blessed everyone with her presence. It was a gift all will cherish, dearly.

“I’ve got all my life to live. And I’ve got all my love to give, and I’ll survive.”

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