In this excerpt from the ebook In Their Own Words: Documentary Masters Vol. 1, Director Sophie Fiennes discusses the making of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami and the importance of performativity. To read the whole interview, purchase the ebook here.
English director Sophie Fiennes became a truly recognisable name after her two very popular, playful yet rigorous essay films on Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Five years later, she delights again with a documentary much less stylised than her previous work, but just as vibrant.
Filmed over a the course of a decade, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami offers an all-access look into the life of the international star of ‘La Vie en Rose’ — the 1977 bossa nova version. From hotel rooms to television appearances, from the singer’s native Jamaica to nightclubs all over the world, Fiennes’ documentary follows Jones everywhere and with the same hunger, assurance, and energy as the now 69-year-old icon. The film is a fun, thrilling, and inspiring collaboration between two women who completely understand and respect each other — as friends, artists, and women.
The Seventh Row caught up with Sophie Fiennes in Toronto to discuss her process, working with great quantities of footage spread over several years, performativity, trust, and being “a high-flying bitch.”
Seventh Row (7R): How did this project come about?
Sophie Fiennes (SF): I met Grace, and she’d seen this film I’d made about her brother, Noel Jones [Hoover Street Revival (2002)]. On the basis of that, we just decided to start something together. We didn’t quite know what would be in it. When you’re making a documentary, you don’t know what’s going to happen. She’d call me saying, “I’m going here. I’m going there. Come with me to Jamaica!” I was just always ready to go. I kept collecting the evidence, as I say. I was doing other films, but I would go anyway.
It got to a point where I thought, “I’ve now got quite a range of material, but I need a performance.” That was crucial. When I was filming the documentary material, the Grace Jones band didn’t exist yet. Now, they tour everywhere together, and they’re really tight. They’ve got that ensemble understanding of each other on stage. That was one bit that we didn’t have to invent for the film, because it already existed. But the art directed performance didn’t. We had to create that.
7R: So the performance we see in the film was created for the film?
SF: Yes. Last year.
7R: Is that the performance she is doing on stage these days?
SF: No. It’s very likely that no one will ever see that performance outside the film.