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Early Blues Interview
Lisa Eismen
(Film director, owner of u n me films)

I was recently introduced to an Australian team working on promoting an upcoming documentary film called Women in Blues, directed by Lisa Eismen (http://www.unmefilms.com.au) and shot by award-winning cinematographer Pieter De Vries, ACS (http://www.pieterdevries.com.au). The film celebrates women who sing or play the blues and explores the struggles that these artists have experienced as women in the world of blues music. Many of the women in the film are larger than life characters and have either been in the game for a long time or are newcomers. The film follows them through their daily struggles as they compete with one another for gigs and captures the camaraderie that brings them together in the making of music and blues. The audience gets to witness the heartache of rejection and the glory of making it. They have already filmed interviews with singers such as Grana Louise, Peaches Staten, Deitra Farr, Joanna Connor, Liz Mandeville, Shirley Johnson, Claudette Miller, Laretha Weathersby and Holle Thee Maxwell. They have also recently secured an interview with Grammy-Award Nominee Ruthie Foster and look forward to filming her at the Australian Byron Bay Blues Festival in April.

A very exciting project that will provide a rare insight into the rich history and experience of female blues musicians (many of whom have overcome personal struggles of various kinds) in a male-dominated musical arena. In order to help source the remaining funds necessary for completion of the project, a campaign has been launched on Indiegogo (see below). Here is my interview with the film's director, Lisa Eismen.

Alan:  Tell me about your film company, when did you start up, where are you based and what projects have you done?

Lisa:   I started unmefilms in March 2011, so exactly 4 years ago.  Weíre in Sydney, Australia and weíve done mainly short films, factual videos, music videos and documentaries.

Alan:  What inspired you to do a documentary film on women in blues? 

Lisa:   My dad was a blues pianist and he had this baby grand piano that was in our tiny living room.  When he played, the windows rattled and the floor shook and I loved it.  Our house was tiny but filled with music, so thatís where my love for music started.  And then, when I was visiting my family last summer I was going to go on a road trip with my sisters and when they all cancelled on me I thought, ďIím still going!Ē  I was ready to document my journey of the blues women on my own but make a phone call to a camera man I know and he was highly interested in the subject, being not only an award-winning cinematographer, but a musician as well.  Iíve seen many documentaries on men in blues but not ONE on the women.  And basically I think the subject is not only fascinating, but I think itís high time there was a documentary on the women that sing the blues.

Alan:  Tell me about the theme of the documentary film, the style and the interviews. 

Lisa:   Itís character driven.  Highly character driven.  The ladies that Iíve interviewed are not only talented but are unique larger-than-life characters.  I will explore a brief history of our lady in blues, gospel and then move onto our women now through interviews, as they get ready for a gig, sit in their living rooms, go for walks and then as they perform.

Alan:  Who have you interviewed and what are the main struggles experienced? 

Lisa:   To be completely honest, my struggles are all financial.  Iím funding this through my credit cards and itís not the way to go and I know that, but I will not stop.  I have to finish this story!  So far, Iíve interviewed Deitra Farr, Holle Thee Maxwell, Kimberly Johnson, Shirley Johnson, Claudette Miller, Joanna Connor, Peaches Staten, Mz Peachez Williams, Laretha Weathersby, Grana Louise, Liz Mandeville, Mary Lane, Heather Crosse, La La Craig, Dixie Street and Alice Hasen.  I am about to interview Ruthie Foster next week and hopefully Beth Hart.  After that, Iíll be heading back to the US to interview Susan Tedeschi, Ana Popovic, Sharrie Williams, Nellie Travis, Joanna Shaw Taylor, Beverly Guitar Watkins, Kara Grainger, Marcia Ball, Ana Popovic and on and on.  There is going to be a struggle with locations and logistics as those women tour constantly.  Itíll be interesting thatís for sure!

Alan:  Are there common themes in the challenges for women in the world of blues music?

Lisa:   Yes, they have to compete in a male dominated world.  There still are sexist issues.

Alan:  Are you exploring the struggles of the early women blues artists, such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Clara Smith? 

Lisa:   I most certainly will, as well as Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Thorpe.

Alan:  Have you found that the struggles women currently experience differs from those in the early days of the blues in the 20's and 30's?

Lisa:   I canít answer that yet, but I will!

Alan:  Have you found that the original male/country blues and female/vaudeville blues stereotypes still have any bearing in blues music? 

Lisa:   Again, I havenít researched this aspect yet, but I will.  Without having documentation to back me up though, I would say yes, of course it does.

Alan:  The birth of recorded blues saw women as the most popular recording artists but the Great Depression brought a significant demise in popularity. What other factors since then have  impeded their popularity ? 

Lisa:   The shift in music mostly.  Letís face it, blues is not the number one genre of all types of music, so youíve got a decrease in listeners and on top of that, youíve got pop which gives you much more sexually outfitted women.  Blues artists normally donít use their sexuality to gain an audience where you have POP artists like Madonna, Lady GaGa and Miley Cyrus that do.  These women I just mentioned by the way are dynamic, talented, clever women mind you that do use publicity and nudity or extremely stylised dressing techniques to get them up on the charts.  Itís just a different way of thinking and performing.  Blues women tend to stick to the roots of the music.

Alan:  How prevalent is sexuality as a characteristic of women singing and playing blues music and do women now feel they have to include this either in their style of dress or in song lyrics? 

Lisa:   As stated above, it doesnít seem to be high on the scale.  All of the women Iíve interviewed so far dress in a fairly conservative style.  But then again, so far most of the women Iíve interviewed are a little older.  Ask me this after I interview Samantha Fish and Ana Popovic, they are gutsy, talented guitarists that dress in short skirts and show a little cleavage, but they are younger and can pull it off.  Song lyric is loaded with sexuality in blues.  Sex, love, pain, lust, money and kids are subjects that entertain us all in all genres of music.

Alan:  Are the struggles faced by women in blues music any different to other music genres?   

Lisa:   Most likely yes, but probably not as much because of the decreasing popularity in the blues genre over the years.

Alan:  What are the key initiatives that could diminish the struggles women face? 

Lisa:   I wish I could answer that easily.  In my humble opinion, I think that the women need managers to help them along.  Itís not easy to get that break is it?  Itís just the relentless pursuit of recording, finding a great manager and getting your voice out there.

Alan:  Who do current female blues artists have as their role models? 

Lisa:   KoKo Taylor certainly was.  Nina Simone.  Billy Holiday.  Bonnie Raitt.  Susan Tedeschi.  Beverly Guitar Watkins.

Alan:  When will the documentary film be released and will it enjoy wide circulation? 

Lisa:   By the end of 2015.

Alan:  How are you raising the funds for the film? 

Lisa:   Oh boy, how much time do you have?  I have called, emailed, texted, facebooked, tweeted and Instagrammed.  I am now in the process of running a fully-fledged Kickstart Campaign that ends on Friday 17th April 2015!!!  http://kck.st/18B0Rzy  That is the link.  I have applied for grants and have applied for sponsorship.  I have contacted distribution companies and production companies.  I went to LA to pitch it at a pitching conference.  Iíve done everything one can do and then some.  I have had many, many positive reactions.  I have letters of interest from broadcasters but no one will fund this fully until I get a rough cut done, which now I can do because my Director of Photography and I just came back from filming the second leg of this documentary on Thursday.  I am currently looking for an editor to help me with the rough cut.  That takes money I donít have.  That is why I am looking for people to help me pitch in money into the Kickstarter Campaign.  Once I get this rough cut done, I can get it to Submarine Distribution, who has been interested as well as RoCo Films.  Once I get a distributor on board, the rest of the money comes in a lot easier.

Alan:  How can the blues community help? 

Lisa:   What a beautiful question.  Thank you for asking! You can help by spreading the word to get people to donate into our Kickstarter Campaign.  http://kck.st/18B0Rzy

Alan:   Thank you Lisa and the very best of luck.

© Copyright 2015 Piet De Vries. All Rights Reserved.
Heather Crosse and Lisa Eismen at Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, MS, 2014

© Copyright 2015 Piet De Vries. All Rights Reserved.
Lisa Eismen and Faye Peaches Staten at B.L.U.E.S. on Halstead in Chicago, 2014

© Copyright 2015 Piet De Vries. All Rights Reserved.
Claudette Miller (getting excited about singing) at B.L.U.E.S. on Halstead in Chicago, 2014

  • © Copyright 2015 Piet De Vries. All Rights Reserved.
    Lisa Eismem, Pieter de Vries and Peaches Staten at Peaches' home just before heading off to a gig in Mexico, 2015
     

www.unmefilms.com.au

Women in Blues

Check out the film trailer and more details:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/women-in-blues

Kickstarter:
http://kck.st/18B0Rzy

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Women-in-Blues/1533486130241267?ref=hl

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Website, Photos © Copyright 2000-2015 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Text (this page) © Copyright 2015 Alan White and Lisa Eismen. All Rights Reserved.
Photos (this page) courtesy Lisa Eismen.
For further information please email:
alan.white@earlyblues.com

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