“It has personal significance for me,” said Roger Stolle, director of the festival. “I’m originally from Dayton, Ohio, and I saw it in a local theater in 1991. About five years later I came to Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint to see for myself. The film really showed that the blues wasn’t just music that originated in Mississippi, it was music that was still vital and happening in the state and had a real cultural connection to the African-American community in the region.”
Stolle moved to Clarksdale in 2002 to “organize and promote the blues from within,” opening his Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, Inc. store and helping to start several local blues festivals, among them the Clarksdale Film and Music Festival, now in its 13th year.
“The theme of the festival is that all of the films are either blues or roots music-oriented or Mississippi-connected, either made in Mississippi, or starring Mississippians,” Stolle said.
It was a perfect fit for the Film Office to partner with the festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“The festival is always a great time and a celebration of Mississippi artists on film,” said Film Office Director Nina Parikh. “What better way to kick off our year-long celebration than to revisit Deep Blues, the impact it had on the community, and its contribution to making Mississippi a destination for blues lovers worldwide.”
Director Robert Mugge will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening at 6:15 p.m. Friday. The festival will also feature his 2005 film Blues Divas (Saturday, 11 a.m.), a concert film featuring female vocalists Denise LaSalle, Mavis Staples and others hosted by Morgan Freeman and filmed at his Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.
And speaking of Freeman, the Film Office is also sponsoring the festival’s screening of 2022’s Paradise Highway (Saturday, 6:15 p.m.),a thriller starring Freeman, Juliette Binoche and Frank Grillo that was shot in and around Clarksdale. The film stars Binoche as a truck driver blackmailed into smuggling to keep her brother (Grillo) safe in prison who gets in way over her head when her latest “package” turns out to be a teenage girl.
“A big part of our 50th anniversary celebration is hosting screenings of Mississippi-made movies in the communities where they were filmed,” Parikh said. “We encourage anyone who worked as cast, crew, extras or vendors for the film to join us and share their stories.”
Other highlights of the festival include the documentary Bonnie Blue (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.), about the life of unsung blues artist and Tunica native James Cotton and his influence on the Chicago blues; Journey of a Bluesman (Saturday, 3 p.m.), a documentary about Chicago bluesman James Yancey Jones AKA Tail Dragger, who will be in attendance; the world premiere of the short documentary Harmonica Bean (Saturday, 4:40 p.m.), about Pontotoc native Terry “Harmonica” Bean, who will perform after the screening; and a screening of Helena, Ark.-based filmmaker Nolan Dean’s short films Nighthawks (Friday, 4:30 p.m.), which was shot in Clarksdale, and Our Cornerstone, a documentary about a prominent rural church in Helena.
“Nolan has been involved in a lot of filmmaking locally and I’ve known him for a while,” Stolle said. “He’ll be here to talk about his films, and he also worked as an editor on the ‘Harmonica’ Bean documentary.”
Then there’s the festival’s live music offerings, which kick off with an opening reception featuring the Anthony “Big A” Sherrod Duo at 5 p.m. Friday. The festival closes out on Sunday with live performances by Pascagoula native Libby Rae Watson, Sean “Bad” Apple (owner of Clarksdale’s Bad Apple Blues Club) and Flora native Australia Jones “Honeybee” Neal, the older sister of Fat Possum Records blues artist Paul “Wine” Jones, who died in 2005.
“She actually taught Paul how to play,” Stolle said. “She’s 80 years old, and she had moved away years ago to Indianapolis and had a career there but has moved back to Mississippi and we’re excited to have her.”
For more information about the festival, visit clarksdalefilmfestival.com.