Mavis! (2015)

There’s no shortage of strong, feel-good films about performers (indeed it was only a few weeks ago that Janis: Little Girl Blue was released), and like those, Mavis! — complete with an exclamation mark somewhat like its subject, singer Mavis Staples — leaves a smile on the face. We see Mavis, accompanied by her surviving sister Yvonne, play to appreciative audiences, before cutting back to her earlier life as the lead vocalist of the Staple Singers, a group started by their ‘Pops’ Roebuck in the late-1940s primarily in the gospel tradition, though later moving into more secular areas throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It’s fascinating to see his centrality to this group in archival footage and interviews, bringing the group in as backing singers for Martin Luther King and taking them to the Newport Folk Festival, with in later years his shock of white hair and good-natured charm. Still, it’s Mavis’s voice and personality which shines through most of all, and if the film doesn’t take any great departures from established documentary practice, it coasts by on the likeability of its subject and her storied life.

Mavis! film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Jessica Edwards; Cinematographer Keith Walker; Length 80 minutes.
Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Saturday 20 February 2016.