Wattstax - The Special Edition:
As the Civil Rights movement in America expanded beyond legal rights towards new goals of economic empowerment for the African American community, Stax Records emerged as a model business under the guidance of president Al Bell.
Stax had connections to several civil rights campaigns including Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket and PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). In 1969 Bell hired Larry Shaw as vice president of advertising and publicity. Shaw was a pioneer in the field creating afro-positive advertising campaigns while also consultanting for civil rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The Wattstax festival served several goals simultaneously. Stax was making a bold move to elevate the profile of African American culture in America while also elevating the profile of Stax as an African American business. Stax also used it's economic clout on the motion picture labor unions in Los Angeles, pressuring them to admit African Americans into the unions for work on the film, this became an essential step in cracking open the color barrier within Hollywood.
To handle the production of the film Bell and Shaw turned to Hollywood's David Wolper Productions. Wolper was the most prestigious and prolific documentary producer of the day. Director Mel Stuart was hired hot off the success of his feature film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Stax was committed to making a film of the highest quality. The recording of the concert was done by the world famous Wally Heider using a newly introduced state of the art 16-track two inch recorder. The film production proceeded as a collaboration, with Wolper and Stuart bringing their filmmaking expertise while Stax directed the philosophy and context of the film as a portrait of contemporary African American life.