Tell Me More // Bill Morris

The 11th Documentary Edge International Film Festival has begun in earnest and songwriter, filmmaker and writer Bill Morris is in town to screen his most recent documentary. Following much-loved songwriter Donna Dean through the southwestern states of America, The Sound of Her Guitar explores how music, willpower and determination redefined Dean’s path in the face of adversity.

Your reputation precedes you. Anyone I’ve mentioned your name to lately has immediately said something along the lines of “he’s such a lovely guy”. Are you really that lovely?
Well, my bribes are obviously working . . .

Tell us how The Sound of Her Guitar came to be.
I was asked to film Donna’s tour in 2013 by her producer John Egenes, who is a good friend of mine. I applied to Creative NZ for an arts grant and received one and so the film came to be, piece by piece, with interviews here in New Zealand and additional filming. I still can’t quite believe it exists as a completed entity!

What was it like touring with Donna Dean? How would you describe Donna to those who had never heard her play?
Donna is one of a rare breed — a songwriter who writes from the heart and gut. A listener can expect disarming honesty, no pretense or ego, just powerful songwriting, great stories and “realness”. Touring with her and the band was a wonderful experience. We travelled through the southwest United States, a mythical land of truck stop diners, stuffed rattlesnakes, Western boots, chicken fried steak, desert casinos, pedal steel guitars, Jesus and Greyhound buses and loved every minute.

The importance of connection and being part of something bigger than ourselves is addressed in the documentary. What would you say to those who are struggling to find a way to connect?
Put down the smartphone and be in control of social media, rather than the other way around. These things on the surface offer connection, but to an extent it’s an illusion and in many ways they actually increasingly isolate us.

What do you hope the audience gets out of seeing The Sound of Her Guitar?
The inspiration to follow your heart . . . And for people who are stuck in violent and abusive relationships, the hope that there is a way out.

Tell us the three things you should always do in Nashville.

  1. Eat a burger at Dino’s burger dive in east Nashville.
  2. Go to a show at the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music.
  3. Visit Gruhns or Carter Vintage guitars and drool over the antique Gibsons.

You’re clearly a very gifted storyteller. What’s the first story you remember telling?
Probably reciting Banjo Paterson poems word for word in imitation of my father.

What are the values you hold most dear?
Honesty and humility.

What’s next for you?
Getting this film out on the world and in front of as many people as possible. Recording my next album and coming up with another great documentary!

The Sound of Her Guitar is showing at Q Theatre on Friday 20 May at 6pm, Sunday 22 May at 5.30pm and Friday 27 May at 8.45pm.
There will be a Q&A with Donna Dean and Bill Morris following all screenings and on Friday 27 May there will also be a live performance by Donna Dean.

The Documentary Edge International Film Festival runs from 18–29 May at Q Theatre.

By Sue Lewis