This month, Le Cinéma Club presents the platform’s third annual Summer Music Festival, featuring films that celebrate the power of live music. This week’s film, Give My Poor Heart Ease, is selected by Dust-to-Digital, the Atlanta-based record company and curator of a beloved archive of musical discoveries from around the world.
In his warm snapshot of the Mississippi Delta, folklorist and filmmaker William Ferris sits down with music legend B.B. King and other denizens of the deep south to talk about the blues. Interviewing local musicians ranging from inmates at Parchman Prison to a virtuoso guitar-playing barber, Ferris finds the genre cannot be pinned down to a single definition or origin. The blues permeates the territory as an infectious feeling, heard in musical notes thrummed from impromptu instruments like broomsticks and axes, in addition to guitars.
“Give My Poor Heart Ease captures the faces and voices of Mississippi blues musicians…. performances in Black homes, a barber shop, and a blues club help us understand a line from ‘Highway 61 Blues’ that inspired the film: ‘I walked Highway 61 ‘till I give down in my knees, Trying to find somebody to give my poor heart ease.’” WILLIAM FERRIS
The short is a far cry from clear-cut ethnographic documentaries; instead, it leans into its subjects’ tendency toward improvisation, freely weaving through familial anecdotes, personal grievances, and the unavoidable hauntings of America’s history of slavery. The freeform approach prevents Give My Poor Heart Ease from coming off as a closed account of its subject matter, letting each sudden blues-ridden howl and hum act as an invocation of the past and an invitation to build upon inherited rhythms.
Mississippi-native William Ferris is an American folklorist and filmmaker. As a college student in the 1960s, Ferris was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement and more recently described his research into Southern Black American history as a “political act in the face of racial violence.” His loving portraits of his home-state include Gravel Springs Fife and Drum, a documentary about distinguished fife-player Othar Turner; a tour of Black churches in Mississippi titled Black Delta Region; and Bottle Up and Go, a film about bottle-blowing farmer and musician Louis Dotson. In 2018, Dust-to-Digital released a two-time Grammy award-winning box set titled Voices Of Mississippi, featuring Ferris’s audio recordings, films, and landmark book about the relationship between the Delta and the blues. This set has been recently adapted into a live musical production.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. Special thanks to Lance and April Ledbetter. Visit Folkstreams to discover more films by William Ferris.