Soundtrack to a Coup d'Etat 2024

Directed by Johan Grimonprez Frames

An electrifying assemblage of sound and image tells the story of a CIA-backed cold war coup in Congo – and the American jazz musicians weaponised in its cause.

Aug 15

Hollywood Avondale

Aug 17

Hollywood Avondale

Belgium In Dutch, English, French and Russian with English subtitles
150 minutes Colour / DCP
documentary film exempt from NZ Classification labelling requirements

Director, Screenplay


Rémi Grellety, Daan Milius


Jonathan Wannyn


Rik Chaubet


Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Andrée Blouin, Nikita Khrushchev, In Koli Jean Bofane, Malcolm X


Sundance, CPH:DOX, Sydney 2024


Special Jury Award for Cinematic Innovation (World Cinema Documentary), Sundance Film Festival 2024


A deplorable episode in geopolitical history is recounted with vivid, exhilarating energy in Johan Grimonprez’s singular, simmeringly angry documentary. A catalogue of African American jazz music provides not only the kinetic soundtrack but the engine to this story of postcolonial Congo, a newly independent nation of particular interest to the rival superpowers because of the mines at Shinkolobwe, source of the uranium for Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project. 

Against the early-1960s backdrop of a bitter cold war, Black American musical royalty – Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington – are dispatched to Africa as “jazz ambassadors”. Unbeknown to the artists, they’ve been weaponised, providing a soft-power cultural smokescreen to more sinister enterprises, including the ousting and assassination of the first prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, in a plot knitted together with the collusion of the Belgian royal family, the CIA and corporate interests.  

In New York, a group protesting the execution of Lumumba, among them Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, burst into the United Nations security council denouncing “murderers”, delivering a seminal moment in the Black Power movement. Soundtrack to a Coup d'Etat is pieced together in an impressionistic kaleidoscope of archival material, spanning newsreel, newly discovered footage of Lumumba speeches, testimony from mercenaries, and home video clips. — Toby Manhire