Jessica Edwards has a broad background in the film industry as a director, producer and publicist. Her short film “Seltzer Works” screened at SXSW and many other festivals before airing on PBS. Her subsequent films, “Tugs” and “The Landfill,” screened at festivals worldwide. She’s the editor of “Tell Me Something,” a book of advice from documentary filmmakers. (SXSW)
“Mavis!” premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival on March 15.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
JE: “Mavis!” is about Mavis Staples and her family group, the Staple Singers. It chronicles Mavis’ career from her early days touring the gospel circuit and her youthful romance with Bob Dylan through her collaborations with Prince, to her recent, Grammy-winning records with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. The film explores how Mavis and her family influenced and contributed to the history of American music while staying true to her commitment to equality and civil rights.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
JE: Mavis did! I had seen her perform in Brooklyn and she was so incredible and motivating, I needed to learn everything I could about her as soon as I could.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
JE: I was really committed to keeping Mavis’s story contemporary. To me, this wasn’t a historical bio-doc. It was a film about how at 75 years old, she is as vital now as she has ever been. So we tried to keep any archive that didn’t have the family in it to a minimum. And I didn’t want the civil rights movement to appear historical. To Mavis, the fight for equality didn’t end in the 60s, and I really wanted to emphasize that.
The other challenge was that Mavis’ life and career is too vast. I knew we would never fit everything in the film, and I didn’t want to! I wanted the film to be engaging to people who knew a lot about her and those that didn’t. But that inevitably meant that there were certain biographical details that viewers were left to discover on their own.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?
JE: I want people to be inspired! I want people to come away with the idea that if you stick to who you are, you can’t fail.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
JE: Keep making work. Do as much as you can with what you have. And you don’t always need to be nice.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
JE: This film was funded entirely by me and my executive producer, Gary Hustwit. It’s a combination of credit cards, family assistance, and trying to do as much as we could ourselves.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
JE: Anything Margaret Brown has done. She is a true inspiration to me. Her film “Be Here To Love Me” about the musician Towns Van Zant was very much a talisman for me in making “Mavis!” Plus she is amazing, gracious, and kind!