New French Stax Music Academy Documentary Screens at Oxford Film Festival & Indie Memphis

A new documentary film about the Stax Music Academy, SOUL KIDS, opened at approximately 50 theaters across France on November 24, 2021 during a week filled with screenings, performances, cultural exchanges, press interviews, and other meetings in Paris with a delegation of staff and alumni from the Stax Music Academy in attendance. The film’s director, Hugo Sobelman, his distribution company, The Party Film Sales, and Memphis Tourism’s Memphis and European offices all supported the weeklong celebration.

More recently, the film screened at the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Mississippi on March 24, 2022 and by Indie Memphis at Crosstown Theater on March 26. Both screenings were accompanied by Q&A sessions with the film’s director Hugo Sobelman and included live performances by 926, the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band.  Sobelman also conducted at master class at the Stax Music Academy on March 22.


In the fall of 2017, French filmmaker Sobelman and his crew traveled to Memphis and Mississippi in search of a specific topic about the Delta on which to base a new documentary film. At the advice of Robert Mauries, founder of the Cahors Blues Festival in France, where the Stax Music Academy had performed previously that summer alongside Stax icon Mavis Staples, Sobelman paid a visit to the Stax Music Academy in Memphis. The result: a luxurious, years-in-the-making documentary film that takes a fly-on-the-wall look at not only the students and their music studies, but also their close relationships with one another and their views on racial injustice, their hopes and dreams, living conditions in Memphis, being Black in America and Memphis, and other societal wonders and woes.

SOUL KIDS stars Johnathon Lee (L) and Trevor Keys.

“We had no idea of what the focus of our documentary was going to be other than that we wanted to make a film about the Mississippi Delta,” says Sobelman. “Then we walked into the Stax Music Academy and witnessed roughly 100 teens learning music but also getting along lovingly like a huge family, guided by an equally loving staff, and we made up our minds then that this would be our focus.”


SOUL KIDS star Shiloh Sanders.

Sobelman and his crew spent many weeks in 2017 and 2018 filming the students in classes at the Stax Music Academy and in conversations with each other in the surrounding neighborhood known as Soulsville USA. Sobelman also tapped Stax Music Academy alumnus Kelvin Walters to create original music for the film score (Walters is now attending The Juilliard School in New York on scholarship). The film also includes footage from a master class at the Stax Music Academy with Chandra Williams, Executive Director at Crossroads Cultural Arts Center in Clarksdale, Mississippi, formerly Director of Kate’s Camp for Kids at The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Waterford, Connecticut.

SOUL KIDS star Kelvin Walters, an SMA teacher at the time now on scholarship at The Juilliard school. Created original music for the SOUL KIDS score.

During the time since the final editing of SOUL KIDS was completed in 2020, the film has been screened at numerous film festivals throughout Europe and was shown to distributors from around the world during the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. It also made its American debut on October 24, 2021 at the 30th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival. The majority of the special screenings and activities in Paris will take place at the nearly-century-old Max Linder Cinema.

Special thank you to Memphis Tourism and its European offices for funding the SMA trip to Paris and creating itinerary of screenings, concerts, meetings, school exchanges, and more.

Information about Memphis screening to come.