The Public, the Private and the Secret Life of Joan Baez
By Catherine Barry
An Intimate Look at One of The Greatest Folk Legends, "Joan Baez I Am A Noise" Opens October 13
In 2018, coming up on 60 years since she made her debut at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, Joan Baez, then in her late-70s, rolled out a new studio album followed by an extensive year-long concert tour.
Documenting the folk-legend’s last tour seemed like a no-brainer project for filmmakers Karen O’Connor (an old friend of Baez) and fellow director Miri Navasky, but as mountains of archives presented themselves, on top of childhood home videos, therapy tapes, and up-to-date interviews, the duo wondered did they, in fact, have a film on their hands.
“Frontline” documentary-makers Navasky and O’Connor teamed up with Maeve O’Boyle (the trio had recently worked together on a “Frontline” film “Growing Up Trans”) and together they agreed there was a lot more to this material than a vérité project or concert documentary. They got to work weaving archival footage, live interviews, diaries, political and historic clips into an intriguing portrait of the golden-voiced Baez, intertwining her career and political success stories with those of her inner struggles.
The resulting film, “I Am a Noise,” which goes on general release October 13th, following a successful run - and standing ovations - at international festivals, takes us behind scenes for a visit with the real Queen of Hearts.
The almost two-hour film manages to allow the uninitiated as well as die-hard fans insight into the public and private life of Baez.
“It was valuable to have a generational difference among us,” says O’Connor. “My closeness in friendship and age with Baez was complimented by the less-familiar, younger perspective of Navasky and O’Boyle.”
With three directors, and a team of executive producers led by Patti Smith, did the production team suffer from “too many cooks”?
“Having three directors was difficult in some ways,” says Navasky, “but mostly it was necessary because we are a small team. There was no room here for privilege as, due to the vastness of the project, we just had to get it done.”
Famous figures loom large alongside Baez in the film’s archival footage. Of course, there’s MLK and John Lewis, a president or two, as well as a very young “Bobby” Dylan, but the film continually brings us back into her heart and soul, and particularly back to some painful family issues with her son, her sisters and her parents.
Peppered with Baez’s actual drawings and journal entries, words and images dance off the page thanks to a delightfully whimsical and supremely skilled touch of animation throughout.
We’re glad that what may have just been a straightforward account of Baez’s last tour turned into a remarkable biopic about a gentle soul, who rode the waves of fame and inner turmoil and has emerged with the strength and courage to reveal her story in all its rawness.