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,
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
Here is my interview with the film's director, Lisa Eismen.
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.
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.
me about the theme of the documentary film, the style and
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.
have you interviewed and what are the main struggles
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!
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
you exploring the struggles of the early women blues
artists, such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey,
Lisa: I most
certainly will, as well as Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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.
are the key initiatives that could diminish the struggles
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.
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.
will the documentary film be released and will it enjoy wide
Lisa: By the end of
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!!!
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.
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.
Alan: Thank you
Lisa and the very best of luck.