James Erskine

IndieLisboa 2020 •

United Kingdom, Documentary, 2019, 96′

Billie Holiday is a North American jazz legend. At the end of the sixties, while preparing a biography that was actually never written, the journalist Lipnack Kuehl taped more than 200 hours of interviews with other musicians, but also family members, friends and lovers of the singer. James Erskine accesses this material to direct a film about her life, while restoring key performances and other archive footage into colour for the first time.

We know how the story goes. It is, after all, of one of the voices of the XXst century that we are talking, the woman who carried jazz’s history within herself and turned that knowledge into the expression of a life of artistic glory and private turmoil. Billie Holiday, born in 1915 and taken away by a life of abuses and excesses in 1959, at 44 years of age, was admired by Duke Ellington, a decisive influence in Frank Sinatra, a troubled reflection of the transparent Ella Fitzgerald. 

Starting in 1970, journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who was aware of all that, devoted nine years of her life to know more. Aiming towards the writing of a biography, she amassed 200 hours of interviews with friends, lovers, agents, family members or musicians like Count Basie or Sarah Vaughn. Linda Kuehl, who truly is the other main character here, died in tragic circumstances before concluding her book. Seeing the words she recorded grouped together with the enlightening archival footage, her work becomes somehow fulfilled. “Bilie” is the full portrait. (Mário Lopes)