by Coop Cooper
The 6th Annual Clarksdale Film Fest is over and a good time was had by all. Here is a bit of what was screened at the fest and some of the fest’s more interesting (and Clarksdale-centric) offerings…
The festival kicked off Thursday night with the documentary “The Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane” which included dozens of performances and candid footage from the Stones’ early years on up into the present. Interviews of the band members are used as voice overs to accompany and sometimes narrate the past footage, giving a rare insight into the history of the band, their blues influences and how they persevered and cheated death to become the icons they are today. The film never shies away from their drug use or the more shocking moments from the past, but it never lets the audience lose sight of the band’s humanity, their love for one another and their love for their fans.
Films screened all throughout the day on Friday, including a music video block at the New Roxy that featured music video premieres for local bands Blackwater Trio and Steve Kolbus and the Clarksdale Blues Review. Other documentaries and videos on Friday spotlighted blues legends such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big George Brock, Mavis Staples, Irma Thomas and Bettye LaVette. There was also a documentary on troubled Rock n’ Roll legend Jerry McGill, civil rights icon James Meredith, Clarksdale Rock and Blues Museum curator Theo Dasbach and a documentary on Robin Colonas and the New Roxy theater’s renovation in Clarksdale shot by Barefoot Workshop students.
The primetime film in the Delta Cinema Friday night was the narrative feature “Dixieland” with director Hank Bedford in attendance. Shot in Pearl, MS, the film tells the story of a hot tempered ex-con (Chris Zylka) who falls in love with a young stripper (Riley Keough, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) but can’t figure out a way to get ahead without falling back into a life of crime. Mississippi’s own country music star Faith Hill plays the ex-con’s mother who has a sordid history of her own, but tries to help her son get on the right path. During the Q&A, Bedford informed the audience that his tale was inspired by his own childhood friend who suffered through a similar life path. The narrative is peppered by real-life interviews with authentic Pearl, MS locals talking about their difficult life experiences growing up in poverty in the region.
Saturday daytime events included documentaries featuring local musicians Leo “Bud” Welch, Jimbo Mathus, Muddy Waters, Sam Carr, Big Jack Johnson, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Early Wright. The day also included numerous short narrative films and a documentary by Clarksdale’s resident ‘Delta Bohemians’ Billy and Madge Howell called “Why Folks Come to Clarksdale” with some help from harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. Will Goss’ hilarious feature film comedy “Hunting” brought the locals in as did the world premiere documentary “A Whistlin’ Girl and a Crowin’ Hen” about local artist/musician/teacher Rosalind Wilcox, directed by Deborah Hammond. “Stagrassle Paranormal”, a mockumentary series pilot shot in Tupelo by Glenn Payne and Casey Dillard, about the zany members of a ghost hunting team and their misadventures, surprised with its clever innuendo, non-stop gags and rapid-fire jokes. Starkville filmmaker Thomas Haffey made an impressive debut with his documentary “Sturgis: Rallying Back” about a ‘family friendly’ biker rally in Sturgis, MS which fell apart after the death of its founder and due to licensing issues with other ‘Sturgis’ bike rallies, but is making a comeback thanks to dedicated locals.
The main event on Saturday night was a screening of “Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities” directed by prolific music documentarian Robert Mugge. Mugge was on hand at the screening as well as renowned Hattiesburg, MS blues artist Vasti Jackson who performs in the film. “Zydeco Crossroads” features live zydeco performances by the innovators and the legacy torch bearers of the Lafayette, Louisiana genre which shares a close ancestral connection to the blues music of the Mississippi Delta.
The documentary takes the crew of a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania public radio station (WXPN) and their ‘World Cafe’ host/producer David Dye down to Lafayette to chronicle the music and players of zydeco both past and present. “Zydeco Crossroads” is a fascinating documentary that not only captures the spirit of zydeco music and its sub-genres, but connects them to blues in a way that proves they were born of the same magic. The film is a sequel to Mugge’s previous film “The Kingdom of Zydeco” (1994) and both films will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on March 25.
It was another successful year at the Clarksdale Film Festival. Looking forward to next year!