Joan Baez I Am A Noise was the opening night film I selected for the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival, and I am so glad I did. I grew up hearing her name and music when I was a minor and not remotely able to attend a concert, but I liked her music and style. I knew her name sounded Spanish, but at the time (the 60s), I did not hear/read anyone mentioning her ethnicity or that she was also fluent in Spanish. In my youth in South Texas, I had limited knowledge of her background and many radio stations playing her music, but I watched TV to learn as much as possible. Attending SXSW and seeing this documentary, Joan Baez I Am A Noise is undoubtedly eye-opening. It reveals much about her music, relationships, mental health treatment surrounding family issues, and more. I was so glad to have learned so much, and the big surprise was having her in person on stage as part of the Q&A. The audience jumped up off their seats and gleefully clapped for her presence. It is a SXSW memory I will never forget.
The legendary award-winning folk singer and activist Joan Baez is known internationally. She has an incredible archive. This movie is not a concert film, yet there is plenty of archival footage from the 60s to the present, including some fabulous scenes of music from Bob Dylan and her, as well as her interpretation of his songs. Directors Miri Navasky, Karen O’Connor, and Maeve O’Boyle were provided access to a storage unit full of Baez archival material, some of which reflect her moods and are shown via animation for the film.
Among the varied concert footage, the audience will also see home movies, diaries, artwork, and audio recordings that were recently discovered. The trio of filmmakers has impressively captured so much of her life in one film, given the artist has a six-decade-long career. Their approach to telling the story begins with shots of her farewell tour. Still, it covers the story of family trauma (parents and the three sisters), mental illness, other tragedies, some happy times, and her son Gabriel Harris who played percussion on her farewell tour. Their relationship is also mentioned, especially about his childhood, but they appear to be close now after seeing the footage from the farewell tour. She was very active in the civil rights and antiwar movements, and there is adequate coverage with the archival footage too.
There is a very revelatory part of her story when she learns from her sister Mimi Farina (who died in the early 2000s), about a childhood memory of their physicist father’s inappropriate behavior toward her. Late in life, Baez believed she, too, was abused. She had panic attacks during her life and frequent therapy sessions while trying to address the “darkness” in her life. At this stage of her life, her parents and two sisters have passed (all seen via photos from the archive). There is footage of her aged mother, Joan Sr., and the other sister, Pauline, before they died in 2013/2016.
There is so much more that can be said of this fantastic documentary, but at the same time, I do not want to add any more potential spoilers to what is revealed here.
Joan Baez, I Am A Noise made the North American premiere at the SXSW Film & TV Festival in March and has gone on to other film festivals. For future festivals and other viewing opportunities, visit joanbaez.com
Source: SXSW, joanbaez.com