Can the appeal of America's music help reverse the downturn in international visitors coming to the U.S.?
Brand USA, which markets U.S. tourism around the world, hopes so. The agency is behind a new IMAX movie called "America's Musical Journey" that premieres this week.
The 40-minute film aims to show off America's musical heritage to the world. It's narrated by Morgan Freeman and stars Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc as he explores American music history in cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Detroit and Miami.
Speaking at a media preview in New York on Tuesday, Blacc said he hopes the movie sparks in viewers a "love for music. I want them to learn about the growth of different genres that were born here in the U.S. like jazz, blues, rock, even hip-hop. ... If you get to see 'America's Musical Journey,' you'll see all the best there is to see here in the U.S. Politics aside, it's a beautiful country."
Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer for Brand USA, said the film is designed to "remind the world how diverse, all-inclusive and welcoming the country is."
International visitors to the U.S. dipped nearly 4 percent during the first eight months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Some in the travel industry have blamed the downturn on anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric from the administration of President Donald Trump.
The movie looks at the roots of African-American musical traditions in the South, beginning with music brought here by enslaved Africans. Over time, that music developed into genres like gospel, the blues and jazz. The stories of the legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong in New Orleans and rock 'n' roll phenomenon Elvis Presley in Memphis are showcased along with scenes of break-dancers in Times Square, country music from Nashville and Motown in Detroit.
The movie follows Blacc as he travels from city to city, learning from local musicians and incorporating their various styles into a new song of his own, "My Story." In one memorable scene during a stop in Miami, he gets a lesson in Latin beats from superstar Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio.
Blacc said he'd been to all the cities in the film before making the movie but he particularly enjoyed his visit to Memphis, visiting Graceland and digging deeper into Presley's legacy.
The film soundtrack features several of Blacc's other songs including "Wake Me Up" and "I Need a Dollar," along with classics like Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" and Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
This is the second movie from Brand USA in collaboration with MacGillivray Freeman Films. The first, "National Parks Adventure," celebrated the beauty and thrills of America's parks. It was released in 2016 and shown in dozens of venues around the world, earning nearly $23 million. The films cost $12.5 million each to produce and distribute.
Garzilli said surveys of audiences who saw the movie about national parks found that 81 percent said they were more likely to visit the U.S. as a result and 62 percent had decided to choose the U.S. over another destination.
The film, sponsored by Expedia and AirCanada, premieres at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
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