Legendary folk singer and activist Joan Baez has lived the dizzying journey of an exceptionally multi-faceted woman: from a brooding child with a Quaker upbringing playing ukulele on the schoolyard steps, estranged from the white kids for being a “dirty Mexican,” to an angelic teenager crooning folk songs to thousands, to mothering Bob Dylan and experiencing a myriad of breakdowns throughout her career.
In homage to a turbulent era, this new documentary from Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle and Karen O’Connor finds the audience sifting through filing cabinets of spidery cartoons, dancing amongst the flower children in the sprawling Newport Folk Festival crowds, dissociating in a taxi cab and flung onto the jarring frontlines of the iconic 1963 civil rights march in Washington. The humanness of Baez unfolds in continuum throughout the film, revealing a childlike curiosity and a steadfast, Capricornian desire to grow, to improve, and to help others. Behind the singer’s perceived nonchalance, we discover an ongoing struggle with mental and physical health and a deep yearning to remember, heal and forgive.
Witnessing Baez amassing thousands to the pacifist movements of the 60s and 70s while reckoning with the devastation of war, racism and violence is yet another stark reminder of how crucial it is to position ourselves in the global struggle for justice unfurling around us in this day and age. Not just in terms of optics, but through actions.
Fast forward to the present and we follow Baez as she dances barefoot, relistens to past therapy sessions and irons her band members’ shirts in the green room backstage at her 2018-19 farewell tour. As she embraces her mother and strums guitar strings with her son on percussion, it becomes clear how utterly punk it is to truly care, to give yourself the time and space to heal, and to fill your proverbial cup and connect with what you truly believe in. And ultimately—in a society that continues to bare its ugly, dehumanizing face—to have the courage to lead through love and show up for oneself and for those around you.
Joan Baez I Am A Noise is now screening in select theatres across Canada.