Lights, camera… Clarksdale! Thirteen years in the making, the Clarksdale Film & Music Festival returns next month with another stellar weekend of movies, music and Mississippi. Lineup and more at www.clarksdalefilmfestival.com.
This year’s pop-up theater venue is the new Shared Experiences headquarters at 121 Delta Avenue in historic downtown Clarksdale (sharedexperiencesUSA.com). Events are thanks to the generous support of Visit Clarksdale Tourism, the Mississippi Film Office, Clarksdale Public Utilities and the City of Clarksdale. The festival also thanks lodging partners Clark House, Delta Digs/Hooker Hotel/Squeeze Box and Travelers Hotel.
“As always, the Clarksdale Film & Music Festival is exactly that—a cool, curated mix of blues movies and Mississippi-connected films topped off with live music performances and very special guests,” said co-founder Roger Stolle. “Unlike big city festivals, ours is what we like to call ‘small but mighty,’ and as a result, it offers nonstop opportunities to make those super special memories that Clarksdale known for.”
This year’s featured films include a remastered edition of what Stolle called “quite possibly the greatest blues documentary of the past 30 years”—Deep Blues. Filmed partly in Clarksdale, the festival screening will be introduced by its creator Robert Mugge. The award-winning director will also present a special two-hour cut of his Blues Divas concert film—an unprecedented weekend happening captured for posterity just down the street at world-famous Ground Zero Blues Club in 2004 with the help of Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman and club co-owner Bill Luckett.
Plus, as part of the Mississippi Film Office’s 50th anniversary, office director Nina Parikh and marketing manager Carey Miller will be on hand to present the new Juliette Binoche/Morgan Freeman/Frank Grillo thriller Paradise Highway. Principal filming for the new R-rated feature by Norwegian director Anna Gutto took place in Clarksdale over the summer of 2021.
Additional screenings at the Shared Experiences HQ include brand-new features and shorts by Clarksdale’s Will Goss, Helena’s Nolan Dean and Nashville’s Tim Hardiman.
“And that’s not all,” said festival co-organizer Nan Hughes. “We also offer plenty of what Clarksdale does best. Real-deal blues music. Live and in-person.”
Clarksdale Film & Music Festival blues performances include such Mississippi favorites as Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Libby Rae Watson, Sean “Bad” Apple and Lucious Spiller. Plus, Clarksdale will, of course, feature its normal live blues in the clubs and jukes every night after the films have gone silent.
The Clarksdale Film & Music Festival: “Mississippi gets its close-up… to celebrate the Magnolia State’s films and filmmakers.” (Garden & Gun Magazine)
Friday – January 27, 2023
Ticket required for entry. All ticket sales at venue door. All sales final. Thanks for supporting our nonprofit festival!
Clarksdale premiere. “National Anthem” is the story of a one-hit-wonder pop star, who’s fallen on hard times. Clint has lost his house, his wife, and his career, and the only thing he’s managed to save is the bottle. But one day, he receives an email from another planet, which asks him to come there and write their national anthem. This planet worships Clint, and little does he know when he accepts the invitation, that he will once again be famous!
2022 blues music videos filmed in Clarksdale, Bentonia and the Mississippi Delta by Nashville’s Tim Hardiman. Featured: Son House “Forever On My Mind,” Robert Finley “Country Boy” and The Black Keys “Poor Boy A Long Way From Home.”
SPECIAL GUEST: Director Noland Dean from nearby Helena, AR. “Nighthawks” short suspense drama (7 min) – An Arab immigrant appears to stalk a diner waitress after her late night shift, but looks can be deceiving. “Our Cornerstone: Centennial Baptist Church” historical documentary (18 min) – The little known story of how a rural church in Helena, Arkansas, and its pastor, Elias Camp Morris, became the cornerstone of the Black Baptist tradition.
After decades in the blues trenches — from long juke-joint nights to international festival stages — the life story of Clarksdale, Mississippi’s blues-playing, truck-driving, folks-art-making legend James “Super Chikan” Johnson will finally be told. See the trailer, and then watch for the full-length film coming later in 2023 from director Mark Rankin.
Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and Preston Rumbaugh perform in the lobby for our daily reception! Blues guitarist/singer “Big A” is a protege of Clarksdale’s legendary Big Jack Johnson, who is featured in the “Deep Blues” film that follows the lobby reception.
SPECIAL GUEST: Director Robert Mugge (“Blues Divas,” “Last of the Mississippi Jukes,” “Hellounds on My Trail”). PRESENTED BY Nina Parikh and Carey Miller of the Mississippi Film Office, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023! THE FILM: Newly remastered in 4K and re-released by Film Movement Classics, “Robert Mugge’s Deep Blues is a movie no blues lover, no popular music aficionado, and no devotee of American culture and folkways should miss. It’s a genuine document, deep and earthy; a peek into our national soul.”- Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times. In 1990, commissioned by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, veteran music film director Robert Mugge and renowned music scholar Robert Palmer ventured deep into the heart of the North Mississippi Hill Country and Mississippi Delta to seek out the best rural blues acts currently working. Starting on Beale Street in Memphis, they headed south to the juke joints, lounges, front porches, and parlors of Holly Springs, Greenville, Clarksdale, Bentonia, and Lexington. Along the way, they visited celebrated landmarks and documented talented artists cut off from the mainstream of the recording industry. The resulting film expresses reverence for the rich musical history of the region, spotlighting local performers, soon to be world-renowned, thanks in large part to the film, and demonstrating how the blues continues to thrive in new generations of gifted musicians. Featuring the music of Junior Kimbrough – R.L. Burnside – Jessie Mae Hemphill – Big Jack Johnson – Roosevelt “Booba” Barnes – Jack Owens & Bud Spires – Lonnie Pitchford – Booker T. Laury – Wade Walton – Jessie Mae’s Fife And Drum Band.
Saturday – January 28, 2023
Ticket required for entry. All ticket sales at venue door. All sales final. Thanks for supporting our nonprofit festival!
SPECIAL GUEST: Director Robert Mugge (“Deep Blues,” “Last of the Mississippi Jukes,” “Hellounds on My Trail”). THE FILM: “Eight fabulous femmes strut their substantial stuff in ‘Blues Divas,’ newest in a long line of joyous music-themed docus from director Robert Mugge… Straightforward docu opens with brief intro from thesp and enthusiast Morgan Freeman, whose Clarksdale juke joint Ground Zero Blues Club hosted festivities and Mugge’s high-def crew over a three-day weekend in spring 2004. The actor’s laidback and often adulatory chats with the talent punctuate uncut numbers… From the religious fervor of Mavis [Staples] to the defiant raunch of Denise LaSalle, perfs are uniformly strong… Throughout an illustrious quarter-century career…Mugge’s movies have been more about the combustible mix of forceful personalities and powerful music than surface gloss.” – Eddie Cockrell, Variety
SPECIAL GUESTS: Executive producer Judy Laster (co-founder The Reel Blues Fest, founder Woods Hole Film Festival) and co-producer James Montgomery (acclaimed leader of the James Montgomery Blues Band). THE FILM: “Bonnie Blue: James Cotton’s Life in the Blues” is an emotionally evocative feature documentary that portrays the untold story of James Cotton, a legend whose musical influence shaped the Chicago Blues style having been mentored with the originators of the Delta blues tradition. Cotton’s life tracks a swath of America’s history — from the post-depression cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to tough Chicagoland’s era of brilliant artistic reinvention to today’s live music scene in Austin, Texas. In between are tours with Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield and sessions with the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Steve Miller, B.B. King and many more. This new film capture’s America’s soul as the blues becomes interpreted in jazz, big band, rock and roll, punk, hip-hop and rap. Born in 1935 on Bonnie Blue plantation in Tunica, Mississippi, apprenticing with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin’ Wolf, and schooled by Muddy Waters, James ‘Super Harp’ Cotton became a mentor to harp players around the globe as he brought the delta blues into mainstream rock ‘n roll. Orphaned at nine, Cotton’s journey tracks America’s history and his story is one of empowerment during a time when the weight of racial inequity made the journey seem impossible. Bonnie Blue – James Cotton’s Life in the Blues is a unique portrait of an era and its impact today. Cotton’s music made history; his musical voice was unique, and the blues were never the same. Original interviews with many of today’s most prominent musicians including Buddy Guy, Billy Branch, Bobby Rush, Steve Miller and Jimmie Vaughan are combined with unique live performances and found archival footage to create an authentic rendering of Cotton’s harmonica power and enduring musical influence. As rock ‘n’ roll jolted a nation to rediscover its sense of its original self, Cotton expressed his soul as part of a desire to engage audiences with high energy joy. His life and music is an expression of the exhilaration he found bearing witness to music’s ability to make overt social barriers become invisible, to bring people together and have fun, to touch the heart living the blues.
SPECIAL GUESTS: Producer/bluesman Tail Dragger and his manager Tamara Jackiw. New cut of a documentary-in-progress, ‘JOURNEY OF A BLUESMAN’ preview showcases the life and times of 82-year-old, Southern-born, Grammy-nominated blues singer James Yancey Jones AKA Tail Dragger, who was a protégé of Howlin’ Wolf and whose career recalls the heyday of blues clubs on Chicago’s West and South sides. Tail Dragger has been featured in numerous publications through the years, including ‘Blues Blast’ magazine (shown).
SPECIAL GUESTS: Award-winning director/producer Ted Reed (“Blues Trail Revisited”), bluesman Terry “Harmonica” Bean and film editor Noland Dean. World-premiere of an exciting new documentary by Clarksdale Film & Music Festival favorite Ted Reed about Pontotoc, Mississippi’s world-famous Terry “Harmonica” Bean. Raised in a huge North Mississippi Hill Country family, Bean started playing blues as a kid before nearly joining the Major Leagues as an ambidextrous baseball prodigy. Instead, Bean worked a factory job by day and played blues harmonica by night for decades before turning to blues music full-time and touring the world. This is the story of his life and music. Please join us in the Shared Experience’s lobby for a “live” one-man-blues-band performance Terry “Harmonica” Bean after the screening.
Right after Ted Reed’s new documentary about Pontotoc, Mississippi’s Terry “Harmonica” Bean, the bluesman himself performs in the lobby for our daily reception!
PRESENTED BY Nina Parikh and Carey Miller of the Mississippi Film Office, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023! THE FILM: New thriller filmed in and around Clarksdale (including in a house on W 2nd Street and at The Den, downtown) in summer 2021 and released in 2022. A truck driver has been forced to smuggle illicit cargo to save her brother from a deadly prison gang. With FBI operatives hot on her trail, Sally’s conscience is challenged when the final package turns out to be a teenage girl. Written and directed by Anna Gutto. Stars Morgan Freeman, Juliette Binoche, Frank Grillo, Hala Finley and more. Presented by the Mississippi Film Office.
Sunday – January 29, 2023
Catch Libby Rae Watson (our favorite South Mississippi blueswoman, who learned from Sam Chatmon, Big Joe Williams and others) in the Shared Experiences lobby as close out this year’s festival. Thanks, y’all!
Don’t dare miss 80-year-old blues guitar-playing/singing Flora, Mississippi-native (and older sister to Fat Possum recording artist Paul “Wine” Jones) Miss Australia “Honey Bee” Jones. She floats like a butterfly and stings like a… well…
Catch Sean “Bad” Apple (the owner of Bad Apple Blues Club, who learned music at the feet of Jack Owens, RL Boyce and others) in the Shared Experiences lobby as close out this year’s festival. Thanks, y’all!