Joan Baez documentary plumbs dark corners of her life, spotlights abuse by father

In "Joan Baez: I Am a Noise", which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, the folk icon with a supple soprano voice and a long history of activism.

Berlin:  In “Joan Baez: I Am a Noise”, which premiered on Friday at the Berlin Film Festival, the folk icon with a supple soprano voice and a long history of activism, takes a disarmingly candid look on her life as she faces the end of her 60-year musical career, writes ‘Variety’.

The immersive documentary is co-directed by Karen O’Connor, Miri Navasky, and Maeve O’Boyle. They weave Baez’s 2018 ‘Fare Thee Well’ final concert tour with her early years, her rise to fame, struggles with drugs that ensued, and a darker psychological thread involving a form of child abuse on the part of Baez’s father, notes ‘Variety’.

A surprising level of intimacy is reached, according to ‘Variety’, thanks to a wealth of material that the directors obtained from Baez’s meticulously preserved personal archives comprising home movies, diaries, artwork, therapy tapes, and audio recordings of voice letters to her family.

Some, while Baez was on tour in England in 1965 with Bob Dylan, who, as she confesses in the documentary, “broke my heart”.

Prior to coming to Berlin to promote “I Am a Noise” — the first time Baez has ever attended a film festival — she and O’Connor spoke exclusively to ‘Variety’ about the complexities of making this vivid multi-stranded visual memoir. Among her answers is one where she looks back at the abuse by her father.

She says: “Because I love my dad, and I can’t stand that part where he’s talking (denying any abuse on his part) on the tape recorder. Because his reality is what it was. I have no doubt that he was completely unaware of (us) remembering things. And so, that’s very difficult for me now. And I didn’t know exactly what would be in the film. So some things are surprising, and some are not. And some are painful.”

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