Clarksdale blues music and musicians was the team of two evening features at the 10th annual Clarksdale Film Festival Friday and Saturday nights.
“Walk with Me: Lucious Spiller, Called to Sing the Blues” played Friday at Grandma’s Sports Bar and “The Blues Trail Revisited: A Documentary Memoir” played Saturday.
“It’s cool because, you know, we have a theme for our festival,” said Roger Stolle, co-founder and organizer of the Clarksdale Film Festival. “It’s not just another film festival where people send stuff in and you choose stuff. We curate it, so it represents the best reflection of Mississippi and blues and roots music, past and present. Just by doing that, you’re going to end up with a lot of local folks and regional folks, people that we know.”
Spiller’s movie was 28 minutes and consisted of a week of blues and gospel adventures in front of a standing room only crowd. He also played music with Sean “Bad” Apple right before the film started.
Spiller played at the Rev. Josh Stokes’ church St. Mark Church Power of the Spirit Ministry on 1227 Martin Luther King Blvd. in the film.
“It was like a Saturday before Easter and my car broke down, so we’re riding to the auto store. I didn’t know he was a reverend,” said Spiller during the question and answer session following the film. “He was saying, ‘What church do you go to?’ I said, ‘I haven’t been to a church. I’m looking for a good church home.’ He said, ‘Well, you be at church like it say at the movie. You be at church tomorrow.’”
Spiller said he plays at the church every Sunday.
“It’s a small church,” he said. “I call it a little juke service. It’s real.”
Director Lee Quinby said she first met Spiller in 2011 and they made the film “True Delta,” which came out in 2012.
“It’s been a lovely decade,” Quinby said.
Editor Nolan Dean said this was his favorite project to work on.
“It was just a complete blast working with Lee, getting to shoot it, getting to edit it and getting to see your face for about a month,” he said.
“Well, now you’ll see it forever,” replied Spiller jokingly.
Dean said he liked being able to walk around town and recalled going from Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art to Deak's Mississippi Saxophones & Blues Emporium and running into musician Watermelon Slim.
“We shot all of this in two-and-a-half days,” Dean said. “We didn’t stage anything.”
Quinby said the film could play other places.
“At this point, I’m sending it out to film festivals and, once that six months to a year process happens, I hope some of the other festivals will be in this area,” she said. “It’s premiering tonight.”
“The Blues Trail Revisited: A Documentary Memoir” was a 90-minute documentary where Ted Reed and his friend Tim Treadway drove through the south to find and record some of the last living blues legends as 20-year-old Museum of Fine Arts film students in the spring of 1970. Reed returned to the area in 2018 and 2019 and reflected on how things had changed.
The film had current footage and some from 1970. It is still not complete.
“Our plan is to finish the film for Juke Joint Festival (in April), so we can bring it back here and show the completed film in a yet to be determined place,” said Reed Saturday night.
Many people today in the south did not know the musicians from 1970.
“A couple people knew who they were, but they did not remember where they lived or where their house may have been,” Reed said. “In most situations, the neighborhood has either been torn down or renovated or don’t exist anymore. Those places where these folks lived are just gone.”
Part 2 of the film will focus on what is happening now, who is keeping the blues alive and how the blues brings people to Clarksdale and Memphis. He feels Clarksdale is a better area for the blues.
“I think fewer people know this is really where it’s at,” Reed said. “So what I’m trying to do with that story is to say, ‘Yes, Memphis gets a lot of the buzz and they call themselves the home of the blues,’ but this is the birthplace of the blues here in Clarksdale.”
“In Our Words” was another local film. It was a 20-minute documentary that played at Hambone Gallery Saturday morning about life experiences of past tenants from the Mississippi Delta's King & Anderson Plantation.
David Rodwin put the film together and said the land was 19,000 acres. The film will be screened at the Carnegie Public Library in the near future and have links for people to see it online.
JoAnne Blue, director of the Carnegie Public Library, talked about why she had a desire to put those experiences into a documentary.
“In Clarksdale, we’re a plantation town,” she said. “All of the plantations’ owners stories are written down, but there are not a lot of stories about the actual people who live on the plantations in Clarksdale.”
Other activities took place including Coop Cooper’s "Filming for Social Media" workshop at the Delta Blues Museum Saturday.
Cooper said the kids were knowledgeable, so the dialogue was advanced. He gave several tips on how to use the phone.
“One thing is, if you’re going to film yourself, you might not want to use the camera facing front – the face of your phone – because it’s not as high quality as the camera on the other side, so it might be better just to turn it where you can’t see yourself,” Cooper said. “It might be better to turn it around and film it that way if you want higher quality video.”