Joan Baez coming to The Triplex

Joan Baez

Frederic Legrand/Shutterstock

Joan Baez coming to The Triplex

The Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is gearing up for an event Saturday, March 2, with a screening of “I Am a Noise” and a talkback featuring two of the film’s directors, Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor, alongside a special appearance by the subject of the documentary herself — the legendary Joan Baez.

“I Am a Noise” began filming in 2013 and took many years to complete. Navasky and O’Connor, longtime collaborators, paused production for a time to work on another film, “Growing Up Trans,” for the PBS documentary series “Frontline.” They resumed work on the Baez film when she announced her farewell tour in 2017.

“We started again with the idea that there had to be something really interesting following a woman who has been famous for 60-plus years coming to the end of her career,” O’Connor explained. From that point on, the filmmakers were driven by a shared vision to create a documentary that eschewed conventional techniques and celebrated Baez’s unfiltered voice.

“We didn’t want to have talking heads or famous people interrupting a narrative to talk about how wonderful she is,” Navasky explained regarding some more typical devices used in documentaries. Instead, they sought to immerse audiences in Baez’s world through the use of what would become unprecedented access to Baez’s personal archive.

In an early scene in the film, Baez opens a rolling door to what is revealed as a treasure trove of archival materials — drawings, cassettes, recordings and letters, memories spanning her entire life and career. “We didn’t know the extent of it,” Navasky admitted. “Even Karen, who’s great friends with her, didn’t realize the extent to which she, her mother, her sisters and her father documented everything in her life.”

“It’s not just an archive,” added O’Connor, ”but an archive that had an arc starting at 5 years old all the way through.”

“Her family had done so much,” Navasky added, “not only documenting, but writing. It was a way of them sorting through their own stories. I think, in some way, they were constantly thinking through writing.”

Baez’s artwork emerged as almost another character itself, an immersive tool to allow the viewer into her internal world. Meticulously captured by the filmmakers and lightly animated by the team at the Ireland-based Eat the Danger, the viewer is given a glimpse into Baez’s creative genius and allowed a deeper exploration into her emotional journey.

Said O’Connor, who has had a 30-year friendship with Baez: “She is incredibly creative in every way. One of the things Miri, Maeve [O’Boyle, the film’s third co-director and editor] and I wanted to capture in the film was this kind of intense creativity. All those elements — that art, the photographs, the therapy tapes — we wanted each element to also have their own dramatic arc. So, you see the artwork from 5 years old all the way through. You hear the tapes from 21 to who she is now, so that you have a kind of trajectory of a life.”

Having three filmmakers is quite unusual but the collaborative dynamic between Navasky, O’Connor and O’Boyle was instrumental in shaping the film’s narrative. “We all have very different strengths,” Navasky reflected. “Having Maeve, who is more brutal with the edit, and Karen, whose relationship with Joan made the film, was crucial.”

Yet, navigating sensitive subjects like family trauma and personal struggles posed a unique challenge. “We had to make different choices as we made the film,” Navasky acknowledged. “We didn’t want to answer questions. We didn’t have the answers.” Maintaining ambiguity allowed the filmmakers to preserve the complexity of Baez’s story without imposing definitive conclusions.

Baez’s own reaction to the film remains a source of pride and reflection for Navasky and O’Connor. “Every time we have a screening, she watches it,” Navasky revealed. “Each time, she has a different reaction to different pieces of it. It’s been interesting to witness her perspective evolve.”

Baez will have another chance for yet another reaction March 2, when the film is shown at The Triplex. The cinema became a nonprofit in July when the community received word that the theater was closing in early June. Nicki Wilson, president of the board of directors of the Triplex, had a group of people in her living room April 1, where, she said, “we all decided we can’t live in a town without a movie theater.” The Save the Triplex movement was born, and by April 14, the group had formed a board and filed for nonprofit status. “Then we just started getting donations from all over,” said Wilson. “We put out the message in all the newspapers and, you know, donations started coming in at $20, $50 $1000, $100,000. It was insane.”

With this grassroots effort, the group was able to sign a $1 million deal July 24 with the owner of the theater, who holds the mortgage. Since then, the all-volunteer team, save for a few staff members who run the theater itself, has been working nonstop. The team has been able to redo three of the four theaters and the lobby, and opened Nov. 15, 2023, with a screening of “Maestro” that included a talkback by Nina Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter.

Said Wilson: “We have done a few fundraisers since with local stars Karen Allen, Lauren Ambrose, David Rasche from “Succession,” Jane Atkinson. We’ve had a nice group of people supporting us from the beginning. It’s been quite the wild ride.”

Proceeds from the fundraiser March 2 will go into unrestricted funds that will help to pay the mortgage. It will also create youth programming, including free screenings for local students, symposiums and educational events.

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