“There was no way we were going to get everything this woman accomplished in her 75 years into a single film,” says Edwards, who pitched the idea of a film to Mavis Staples‘ management after seeing her perform at Prospect Park in 2013. “We tried hard to stick with the contemporary story and her vitality. I never wanted it to be a historical bio-doc.”
Staples’ history, though, is one of the significant stories of American music. Staples started singing gospel with her father Pops in and around Chicago in 1951, performing at the presidential inauguration of John Kennedy, touring with Martin Luther King Jr., and crossing over to pop on the Stax label with “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” in the early 1970s, performing with The Band in The Last Waltz and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Mavis’ intermittent solo career includes two albums Prince produced for her and a 10-year gap that preceded her 2004 release Have a Little Faith.
With a small team of executive producer Gary Hustwit (he produced the Wilco film I am Trying to Break Your Heart), producer Rachel Mills, editor Amy Foote and director of photography Keith Walker, Edwards shot concerts in London, Brooklyn, Chicago and Newport, R.I., where Staples headlined the 2014 Folk Festival.
As Billboard‘s exclusive clip shows, Staples has been extremely active with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, producer of her 2009 Grammy winner You Are Not Alone and its follow-up, One True Vine.
“As I spent more time with her and read more, the importance of [her father] Pops became really clear and it also [played in] the narrative of the film,” Edwards says. When the final Pops Staples record, Don’t Lose This, became a project for Mavis, “It ended up being a great way to focus on how special that connection was.
“So much of her life was so informed by him. Then you get to Jeff Tweedy and [his son] Spencer and that sort of family connection comes up again. We definitely look at the way Mavis has found this other family in the Tweedys and how it very much informs their collaboration.”