Spotlight // Kecia Benson
In an industry where reality TV reigns supreme, it’s difficult for a young, female filmmaker to make her mark. Brooklyn based filmmaker Kecia J. Benson is up for the challenge. As Kecia embarked on her journey to document one struggling musician’s tale of heartbreak and the Blues, she uncovered an untold story of many of the inhabitants of Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.
Tell me about your latest film and the inspiration behind it.
Beale Street Blues is a documentary about the controversial issue going on at Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. I followed [several] guys around and they talked about their issues surrounding being older Black musicians-they're the pioneers of Beale Street and they're not getting the respect and recognition out there. Many of these guys are homeless and they’re barely making $50 per performance where White bands are making $1,500 a pop. This has been going on for years and I’m the first to do a documentary and give them a voice.
I came upon this issue from Chester Chandler, one of the musicians, in Arlington, Virginia two years ago. He used to tell me stories about Beale Street so I decided, hey, let's give these guys a voice. My issue was that I didn’t have the money to do it so I did a Kickstarter campaign and raised $5,600 in 30 days. Two months later I flew out and shot the movie.
What was something that surprised you about the story, something you didn’t think about going in.
Originally it was only supposed to be about Chester, his disability, and the blues. But when he introduced me to his bandmates and they told me what was happening, I was really surprised. I realized I was given a different direction and I had to tell a story that was even bigger than just one person. That was a twist for me as a filmmaker.
What is the end goal for you for people who watch the movie?
I'm looking into organizations where I can get people to donate and reaching out to create a different type of dialogue. This is a story that even a lot of young people don't know about. I'm only 26 so I really didn't have any interest in blues until I started talking to them.
What are some of the other projects you're working on and do you want to stay in the documentary film category?
When I had my screening at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), I met an actor from 30 Rock and now I'm working on another documentary called The Uptown Comedy Club. Uptown was a comedy club in Harlem in the 90's where comedians like Chris Rock, Flex Anderson, Paul Mooney, and Yvette Wilson performed. He used to own the club and wants to tell the story because a lot of people don’t know the history that came from it. Also, I've been writing a feature film called Kenya's Eyes about a young, lonesome girl who battles with identity and the only person she has is her imaginary friend.
As a new filmmaker, what is the process for seeing your project go from an idea to reality?
It can take 1 year to 10 years, just look at Dee Rees from Pariah. People don't understand how much time and energy we have to put into our work. Just because you have a good script doesn't mean someone is going to pick it up, so the process starts when you start writing. It's taken me 3 years to finish a script that I'm so close to. And there's really no timeline for it. Oh, and money is always going to be a factor.
Photographs submitted by Kecia J. Benson.
Words by Lizzy Okoro.