The next feature documentary blues society is the work of Dr. Augusta Palmer, Director of the SFC Women’s Film Festival and Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Arts at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. Dr. Palmer is a filmmaker and researcher with a Ph.D. in Film Studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
blues society focuses on the Memphis Blues Festival and bohemianism in 1960s America. Dr. Palmer spoke with WBGO Newspaper host Doug Doyle on the film and his career.
Dr. Palmer says she kind of inherited an interest in the Blues.
“I really got to know the Blues from my dad Robert Palmer and he’s one of the subjects of this documentary blues society on the Memphis Country Blues Festivals in the 1960s. He was a writer for the New York Times and rolling stone, a music critic who wrote a book called deep blues which is still frequently used as a textbook for people studying the blues. It was a great first read. There have been a lot of advances in blues research since the 1980s when it was published, but that’s how I came to this.”
You could say Dr. Palmer was at the 1969 Blues Festival.
“My mom was taking tickets at the door. There’s no video of her just making me want to cry. I was there because she was pregnant with me. I was born in December 1969. So I like to say I’ve worked on this movie before my life even began She (mom) gave a pretty impassioned speech in it, asking people who had kind of run out the door and n hadn’t paid their tickets to please pay the one dollar entrance fee to benefit musicians like Furry Lewis, Robert Wilkins, Fred McDowell and those great Blues legends who were sort of starting a revival in their careers but didn’t weren’t as recognized as they could have been… That was really one of the purposes of the festivals.
Dr. Palmer points out that racism was a major factor in the lack of recognition for these artists.
“As a professor at St. Francis College, this constantly comes to mind. The College is very interested in social justice in all respects. It really inspired me to work on this film and reflect on these issues. .”
blues society contains fantastic footage from the 1969 Memphis Blues Festival.
“WNET sent a crew there from New York to film the festival. It was part of the show with Steve Allen hosting the Summer sounds. He performed concerts across the country in this show. At the same time, there was an independent team led by a gentleman named Gene Rosenthal who still has the Adelphi Records label. This team finished and shot with five cameras on beautiful 16mm footage. You really feel like you’re there in that moment because the pictures are so gorgeous and they’ve been sitting in Gene’s closet for so many years. Part was used in the movie Memphis ’69. I was also able to get a license from Fat Possum Records who made this movie and bought the footage from Gene.”
As a documentary filmmaker, she is best known for The Hand of Fatima (2009), a feature-length documentary about music, mysticism, and family history. His award-winning documentary and experimental video work has screened at national and international festivals, as well as venues such as New York’s Anthology Film Archive.
His first short fiction film, A is for Aye-Aye: an alphabet adventure, has screened at children’s film festivals from New York to New Zealand. A is for Aye Aye follows a little girl named Iris – played in the film by Palmer’s 11-year-old. Quinn walks through the New York Public Library (NYPL) picture collection. This film premiered on February 27 and 28 at the BAMkids Film Fest.
Dr. Palmer’s academic interests include Chinese language cinema, and documentary history and theory. His essays have been published in several major anthologies on Chinese cinema, including The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society at the Turn of the 21st Century (Ed. by Zhang Zhen, Duke University Press, 2007), which is now published in translation in the People’s Republic of China.
Palmer is also a co-founder of PS 20 Farms, an urban agriculture program that provides students with the opportunity to learn about gardening, healthy eating, and sustainability on school grounds.
You can WATCH the entire interview with Dr. Augusta Palmer here.