Coming this Sunday to Richmond International Film Festival, Mixtape Trilogy is a film featuring the Indigo Girls, Talib Kweli, and Vijay Iyer, and exploring the power music still has to shape and change our lives.
I know that I’m officially old because I now unironically open sentences with “Back in the day, my generation…” I’m coming to terms with it, don’t worry.
But back in the day, my generation was one of the last ones who still made this lovely, powerful thing called a mixtape. You would spend hours carefully curating the right songs in just the right order to not only tell a story but tell the recipient just how you felt in a way that words could never scratch the surface on.
Britney Spears’ “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know” was usually on the ones I made, because despite the preppy, loud colors, Britney was pretty angsty, too. I don’t know if the people I made the mix tapes for ever really got the message, but god, she tried, and bless her for it.
The documentary, Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music specifically examines three diverse artists (Indigo Girls, Talib Kweli, and Vijay Iyer) and the power their art has over their fans — and vice versa. Director Kathleen Ermitage, in her directorial debut, intentionally chose artists who were as different as possible, in order to show the vast variety of connections we all have to music, no matter what artist or genre is our favorite.
The idea of examining the power of music may not necessarily be a new one, but it always brings something new to the table. After speaking with executive producer Alan Cogan, Ermitage came to the conclusion that she didn’t need some groundbreaking new idea — she just needed to make the idea her own.
“I spent three months, I wrote a treatment, and I decided I wanted three stories,” said Ermitage. “I wanted to cover a variety of music, and I wanted to focus on the musician and fan relationship. Like, what’s going on there? What’s that strange alchemy, that dialogue, that conversation that exists between musicians and the people that admire their music? That’s how I crafted the story, [and] there’s three stories in that format — as a musician and a fan.”
Much like one would dissect a poem, Ermitage goes in deep with her subjects to rip apart the art, getting deep beneath the surface to find not only the original meaning behind the work but how it then managed to grab its fans with both hands. Sometimes the journey between original intent and the final outcome is quite unpredictable.
“We explicated the music so that we could really try to understand, in one sense, where the artist is coming from, and then how the fan is receiving it,” said Ermitage. “There’s still that little gray area in between that I think artists in particular like to talk about. They don’t always have an intention for their music. But like our film, we put it out in the world and you see how people respond to it. The common thread through this whole thing is that music is transformative. It changes people’s lives and it also brings people together.”
Amongst the artists, Ermitage found many things that were different, of course, but many similar things as well, especially when it came to activism. Sure, music is and always has been healing on an individual level, but it also has the power to bring people together, especially in times of strife. Whether it’s Indigo Girls, who have openly advocated for LGBTQ and environmental issues, or Talib Kweli, who has spoken out against police brutality, the artists featured in the documentary haven’t just created art for those fighting for their communities, but have used their voices and platforms in support as well.
“These are whole people, and they have not just the art that they’ve been working with for decades, all of them, but how they interpret the power of that, and their power to connect with their audiences,” said Ermitage. “Each one of these artists is a fascinating example of: not only have they been working on their craft for decades, but they’ve also figured out ways to be a part of the nation’s dialogue about different issues in society. They want to make the world a better place.”
The Richmond International Film Festival is happening now, and continues through Sunday, June 12th, at The Byrd Theatre. Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music will close out the festival on June 12th, 2022 at 6pm. Tickets can be purchased here, and more information about the documentary can be found at mixtapetrilogy.com.
Top Photo via Mixtape Trilogy/Facebook