2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Six – I AM THE BLUES
After a day off, day six of the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival found myself venturing out on a rainy, cold evening to immerse myself in a documentary. There are two documentaries at the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival that focus on The Blues, TWO TRAINS RUNNIN’ and I AM THE BLUES and they function as companion pieces to each other. TWO TRAINS RUNNIN’ tells a big picture story of how The Blues were intertwined with the Civil Rights movement. I AM THE BLUES complements that film by being intensely intimate and personal about a dying generation of Blues musicians.
There’s a very conscious decision by the director of I AM THE BLUES, Daniel Cross, to just get out of the way and let the focus just be on the musicians at the center of the film and their music. It leaves the film itself a bit shapeless, but it also removes any barriers between the audience and the people on screen. None of the musicians featured, including Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Carol Fran, Little Freddie King, Lazy Lester, Bilbo Walker, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, RL Boyce, LC Ulmer, and Lil’ Buck Sinegal were ever superstars, but they’re all talented people that lived in hard times and are still playing. The film makes the case, visually, that there are still hard times out there that helped create The Blues in the deep South and that these are still relevant performers.
There’s no real narrative here. These men and women, in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are still living and still performing. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a fault of the film, but it does leave one with the sense that we’re covering similar ground at times. Bobby Rush emerges as the face of the film, with his musings while driving insightful and interesting. Mostly unsaid is the subtext of the film, this generation of Blues artists is dying off. Is there a new generation that will preserve this music and carry on the tradition? If not, this film serves as a document to a generation.
But, by not forcing a narrative, the film garners a power of being intensely personal. You get to know interesting people. You get to experience incredible music. Sometimes, knowing when to just let the subject speak for itself is the wisest thing a documentary director can do. That’s certainly the right decision here.
I AM THE BLUES plays twice more at the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival, on Wednesday, October 5 at 3:30 pm at the Fox Bay Cinema Grill and on Thursday, October 6 at 7 pm at the Downer Theatre. The festival itself runs through October 6th. Tickets can by purchased at Milwaukee Film’s website.