The Murder Ballad of James Jones, ATLFF’s Jury Award-Winner for Best Documentary Short, was a byproduct of fool’s luck and good fortune.
James “Tail Dragger” Jones, a protégé of legendary Chicago bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, had been cast in my short film Lomax, a spirited reimagining of folklorist Alan Lomax’s 1941 journey through the Mississippi Delta. An Arkansas mule driver at age seven and a natural-born showman, James’ life experience superseded every line on the page. James didn’t like the idea of rehearsing and I agreed to roll with it. Well, come production day, James didn't quite "have it". We improvised, shot wide, and grabbed as many cutaways as we could justify.
Unsure if I had a film, I brought the script and a bottle of whiskey to James’ hotel room to record a clean read that night. With the lavalier still clipped to his collar and half a bottle down, we were bullshitting about working with The Wolf and the heyday of South Side Chicago Blues. James asked if I knew about his record. I knew of the albums he produced for Delmark, but that wasn’t what James was talking about. He proceeded to tell me of his rising feud with “Boston Blackie,” a guitarist who was better known for cutting and shooting. As James spoke with a slang and vernacular that disappears with the passing of every elder bluesman, the recorder rolled and preserved a little-known piece of Chicago folklore. So there you have it. Lightning in a bottle.
My next film currently in post-production explores another slice of Americana. Black Canaries, a 1900s coal mining folktale inspired by my maternal ancestors, is the story of the Lockwood family coal miners who operate a private drift mine in rural Iowa. After a mine collapse blinds the youngest son and kills the hauling mule, the family must continue to drudge the depths, extract coal and keep warm against the winds of the vacant prairie.
In collaboration with the Berklee College of Music’s Film Scoring Program, Composer Jose Parody and Music Supervisor Austin DeVries are putting the final touches on the score and sound design as we prepare for festival submissions this fall. In the meantime, I’m organizing a grassroots film tour at arthouses, makeshift venues, backyards, and living rooms, to present advance screenings of the film to raise the necessary finishing and distribution funds.
— ATLFF '15 Award-Winning Filmmaker Jesse Kreitzer
We are now accepting submissions for the Oscar-qualifying Documentary Short category and all other categories for the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival. The Earlybird Deadline is June 20, Regular Deadline is September 18.