Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg celebrates the life of the pioneering blues/rock legend Janis Joplin in her new film Janis: Little Girl Blue. The film got its start in 2008 when Berg heard that the Joplin Estate was “considering sharing their archive with a filmmaker.” After many pitches, Berg signed on to do the film, her first music documentary. The film draws on archival footage of Joplin’s performances and interviews as well as Joplin’s letters, which are read by the singer Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power).
Berg spoke briefly about her film with Steve Pond for the Wrap at the Toronto International Film Festival, and did an in-depth interview with filmmaker Ondi Timoner at BYOD (Bring Your Own Doc).
The film hit some initial obstacles when Berg realized how big the rights challenges were. As she told Timoner, “I had not done a music doc before and I did not know what would go into all the archive and licensing costs, and after the first kind of roadblock the estate came back to me to try to relaunch this project, and it was daunting.” Berg brought on veteran filmmaker Alex Gibney as producer at that point and, after two more years of wrangling and negotiations, was able to get the project moving forward again.
The film was a labor of love for Berg. “I’m such a huge fan of hers and she represents to me something that is kind of misrepresented in the legacy of the 27 Club, which is a woman who was a powerhouse,” said Berg. “Often we remember the men for their musical talent and who they were to the world of music, but I feel like women get kind of a raw deal. We always remember these women as junkies who died alone. I wanted to kind of give some life to Janis the powerhouse musician that she was.”
Janis: Little Girl Blue will have its broadcast premiere on American Masters on PBS in February, 2016.