10th Annual Women in Media-Newark Film Fest: The Stories of Gladys Barker Grauer and Mary Lane

Mar 15, 2019

Chicago Blues legend Mary Lane is the subject of the film "I Can Only Be Mary Lane"
Credit www.icanonlybemarylane.com

The 10th annual Women In Media-Newark Women's History Month Film Fest runs from March 27 through April 5.  WBGO News Director Doug Doyle spoke with the directors of two of the festival's outstanding films.

Being Gladys will be screened March 27 at the Newark Museum.  I Can Only Be Mary Lane will be shown at WBGO on April 5.

The husband and wife filmmaking team of Ralph and Zelda Patterson are the directors of Being Gladys. For more than 70 years Gladys Barker Grauer has advocated for the poor, the working class and the liberation of herself as a Black woman through the power of her art. 

Newark artist Gladys Barker Grauer is the subject of the film "Being Gladys"
Credit Coleen Gutwein

At 95 Gladys is not “a little old lady” and is still a force in the art world.  Award-winning film maker Zelda Patterson says Gladys has always followed her heart.

"That's what prompted me to explore her and her artwork demonstrates that."  

Ralph Patterson says there was a certain advantage in not knowing her work and discovering it as they went into the project. 

"The fact that she works with so many different kinds of media over the years has been exciting to note, things that range from water color to recycled plastic bags.  It's pretty amazing."

Patterson says Gladys is one of a kind.

"One of the adverbs that the people we talked to used was the word "authentic" and that's exactly what she is.  She defended who she was at all times.  She did not allow circumstances or other people to define who she was going to be."

The filmmaking team of Ralph and Zelda Patterson came into WBGO along with Pamela Morgan, the executive director of Women In Media-Newark Film Fest. The Patterson's film "Being Gladys" will be screened March 27th at the Newark Museum.
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

Zelda and Ralph Patterson are both originally from Iowa.  Zelda co-produced A Woman Under Construction a full length documentary on the life of one woman’s struggle from substance abuse to peer counselor and the short film Spirit Children following the life of Sister Stan Mario Teresa Mumumi, a Ghanaian nun fighting the age-old custom of putting children to death who are born with disabilities.  Her most recent productions have been two half-hour documentaries. Newark’s Old First Church aka First Presbyterian Church Newark commissioned, Old First Church- Church at The Crossroads during the 350 year celebration of Newark’s founding. Bethany Baptist Church-Newark commissioned A Testament of Faith on its history as told by its 90 year-old and older members. Both productions were done with her filmmaking partner and husband.

The majority of Ralph Patterson's professional career was spent at WNBC New York and NBC as a cameraperson and tech supervisor for local camera crews. Ralph is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards for news-gathering.  The New York Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences granted him an “Emmy” for his work on “9/11” We Remember. He also holds an Edward R. Morrow Award for his work in covering “Super Storm- Sandy”. Zelda and Ralph work as co-facilitators at Women in Media-Newark’s New Jersey Filmmakers’ Lab from which the documentary on Gladys Grauer was conceived.

Zelda says the Filmmakers Lab has been so rewarding.

"When Pam (Pamela Morgan, Executive Director of Women in Media-Newark) invited us in and when we first started, the word was put out that there was going to be a Filmmaker Lab in Newark, we were very surprised  when 30 people showed up for the lab.  Once we decided that the Lab was going to do Gladys' story we were able to put together four five person teams and the people are so committed. The Lab is a real joy for us."

Jesseca Ynez Simmons' film is about Chicago Blues legend Mary Lane who is still recording at the age of 83
Credit Jessa Ynez Simmons

Award-winning filmmaker Jessecca Ynez Simmons is the director of I Can Only Be Mary Lane

Born in 1935,  83-year old Chicago singer Mary Lane is one of the last living legends of American Blues, but she is hardly known outside of her stomping ground (West Side Blues Circuit) and has never received the wider recognition the film maker says she deserves.

"It's so surprising her career didn't take off in such a way having sang alongside the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Junior Wells, you know these really big icons in the Blues world and you see her get to sing with some of those people in the film.  People are kind of stunned what was it that kept her only known within the Chicago area."

Simmons says she has been thrilled with the reaction to the film so far.

"I've been told multiple times after the film is screened somewhere that you know they feel like they really got to know Mary and just want to go give her a hug and I love that."

Award-winning filmmaker Jesseca Ynez Simmons is also an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Dayton
Credit Jesseca Ynez Simmons for WBGO News

Simmons says her goal in making the film was quite simple.

"If I had one goal for the film it's just that everyone would be able to hear her music while she's still with us."

Simmons says Mary Lane's trademark saying is "If You Don't Dig the Blues, You Got a Whole in Your Soul."

I Can Only Be Mary Lane follows Mary as she records just her second studio album and first in over 20 years.

Jesseca Ynez Simmons is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Dayton. Her directorial projects have gone on to show at over 50 festivals worldwide and have garnered numerous awards. Jesseca also works as a cinematographer and her images have been screened at the Int’l Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), Hot Docs Film Festival, Chicago Int’l Film Fest, DocLisboa, Sidewalk Film Festival as well as on National Geographic.

The Women In Media-Newark Women's History Month Film Fest runs from March 25 through April 5
Credit Pamela Morgan for WBGO News

To check out the entire schedule for the film festival you can go to www.wim-n.com.

Other venues besides the Newark Museum and WBGO include the Newark Public Libary, The Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers University-Newark, East Orange Public Library and the Maplewood Arts Center.

Click above to hear the entire interview with Doug Doyle and the filmmakers.