Private Project


Who is Barbara Dane? If you don’t know, you’re in for a ride! Pick a 20th century social justice movement, and this mysterious blues/jazz/folk powerhouse and unsung hero of American music was probably there. Standing strong with her singular confidence, Dane emanated the people-powered connectivity of folk, the defiance of blues and the elemental cool of jazz while propelling major historic events with boldness and subversion that cut through commercial artifice and earned her a 5” FBI file. THE 9 LIVES OF BARBARA DANE is an underground history of a singer-agitator overlooked by many storytellers of American history (though certainly not J. Edgar Hoover). Overlooked, that is, until now.

Over nine decades, Dane’s unbending principles guided her through a life story that challenges dominant narratives around American music, 1940s communism, 1950s white femininity, the 1960s folk scene, the 1970s GI Anti-War movement, and the 1980s Iran-Contra affair. Major events viewed through her revolutionary lens are interlaced with performances that evoke the thrill of uncovering a rare old jazz LP.

Dane was a rising star in the late 1950s, performing and recording with jazz and blues greats including Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Jack Teagarden. She was cited as an inspiration by Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt, and her own early mentors included Pete Seeger and Count Basie. She counted Langston Hughes and Lenny Bruce among her supporters, and was the first white woman featured in Ebony Magazine. But Dane refused to play the “pretty girl” game expected of young women who wanted to make it in the music business. Outspoken in her views on race and social justice, she soon found many doors closing to her in the Cold War climate of 1950s McCarthyism.

Come along with Dane as she joins (then gets kicked out of) the Communist Party, sings with a who’s who of legendary jazz and blues performers, opens her own wildly popular North Beach blues club featuring Big Mama Thornton and T-Bone Walker, sings at Freedom Schools in Mississippi, shares the stage with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs, and collaborates with activist/actress Jane Fonda in the anti-Vietnam War GI Coffee House Movement. Travel with Dane as she becomes the first American performer to break the post-revolution U.S. embargo with Cuba at the Encuentro del Canto Popular (Protest Song Gathering) organized by Cuban musicians, an experience that prompted her to found Paredon Records to amplify and celebrate the voices of anti-colonial artists and activists worldwide.

Throughout her long career, Dane grapples with the twin pulls of art and family responsibility, finding her own heartfelt way through and seeing her children and grandchildren share their voices onstage. Through the lens of a recent concert tour, we examine an outspoken and tireless artist whose devotion to music and social justice showcases the vigor and spirit at the heart of American dissent.

  • Maureen Gosling
    Pleistocene Park; The Long Shadow; This Ain't No Mouse Music;A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream; Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law; A New Color
  • Jed Riffe
    Pleistocene Park; Ishi, the Last Yahi; The Long Shadow; A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream; Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law; A New Color
  • Barbara Dane
    Key Cast
    Freedom Riders; Down Home Music - A Journey Through the Heartland;The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; Checkmate; Wild Mussells
  • Willie Chambers
    Key Cast
    "The Chambers Brothers"
    Summer of Soul; Undisputed; Boss Level; Casualties of War
  • Danny Glover
    Executive Producer
    Lethal Weapon, Sorry to Bother You
  • Nina Menendez
    Executive Producer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    music film, biography, political
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 47 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    April 15, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    603,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Cuba, United States
  • Language:
    English, Spanish
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Maureen Gosling

Maureen Gosling, a filmmaker for 50 years, has worked as a director, producer, editor, sound recordist and distributor. Gosling produced and directed, with Chris Simon, the feature documentary, THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC!, (2013 Premiered at SXSW) on the life of the late American roots music record producer, Chris Strachwitz. Gosling directed, produced and edited BLOSSOMS OF FIRE (2000), feature-length, on the Zapotecs of Oaxaca, Mexico (Coral Award, Havana FF). She is also co-filmmaker with Maxine Downs on BAMAKO CHIC: THREADS OF POWER, COLOR AND CULTURE. Gosling is best known for her 20-year collaboration, as co-filmmaker, editor and sound recordist, with the late director Les Blank on more than two-dozen documentaries. Their most acclaimed film is the British Academy Award winning “making of” classic, BURDEN OF DREAMS, on Werner Herzog’s filming of FITZCARRALDO in the Peruvian Amazon. Gosling is also a sought-after editor. Her latest projects as editor include: PLEISTOCENE PARK, produced by Jed Riffe and directed by Luke Griswold-Tergis, A DANGEROUS IDEA, produced by Jed Riffe, directed by Stephanie Welch; THE LONG SHADOW, produced by Jed Riffe directed by Frances Causey. For the last 20 years, she has worked with Jed Riffe on nine films, including CALIFORNIA’S “LOST” TRIBES, of the PBS series CALIFORNIA AND THE AMERICAN DREAM. Gosling is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences.

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Director Statement

Barbara Dane is a kindred spirit. Directing this film about her brings together my passions for music, peace, social justice, and amplifying the voices of women. THE 9 LIVES OF BARBARA DANE called on me to reach into my own vast experiences in life and filmmaking. For over 50 years, I have directed and/or edited films on a wide array of musical traditions, most notably with filmmaker Les Blank (IN HEAVEN THERE IS NO BEER?, SPROUT WINGS AND FLY) and American Roots music producer Chris Strachwitz (DEL MERO CORAZÓN, I WENT TO THE DANCE). I directed and edited BLOSSOMS OF FIRE (World Premiere SF International FF 2000), a film about the Zapotec matriarchy of Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico. I co-directed and edited THIS AIN’T NO MOUSE MUSIC! THE STORY OF CHRIS STRACHWITZ AND ARHOOLIE RECORDS (World Premiere SXSW 2013) with Chris Simon. With producer Jed Riffe, I’ve edited nine social justice films over the last 16 years (THE LONG SHADOW, CALIFORNIA’S “LOST” TRIBES). My latest film combines musical performance, history, politics, and an unheralded woman all in one remarkable story. It was a daring creative choice to go on the road and film an 89-year-old woman with limited mobility. It meant challenging stereotypes of age-related disability; we don’t dwell on it, and we don’t ignore it. Barbara focuses on what is happening now, always drawing on her past experiences and sharing generously with those around her.

In my filmmaking, I have been greatly influenced by the poetic, non-traditional style of my late film partner, Les Blank, and the many musical and cultural films we made together. Evocative music and song lyrics are part of the storytelling, as are Dane’s voices speaking back and forth across the decades of her life. There is no narrator. Dane tells her story, with other voices coming in at points of narrative intersection.

Recent political events have energized millions of people to take to the streets in support of women’s rights, movements for Black and Brown lives, and the climate crisis. Many activists and music enthusiasts are unfamiliar with Barbara Dane, a force for change in this country who, even as a white woman in the 1950s, was boldly intersectional and so potent in her power that she was intentionally obscured from public discourse. I believe Barbara’s example will inspire people to let go of fears and doubts, find community, and get involved in social change. My goal for the film is to increase awareness of her contributions, magnify her impact and smash stereotypes of what women have been, are, and can be as artists and social activists. It is impossible to measure the true impact of any film, as audiences respond very personally. For some, it is an experience. For others, it expands their historical view. For others, however, I truly believe the film will change their lives. I want the public to know Barbara Dane so that they may feel empowered to take action in their own way, just as she did. That change can take time, but it is worth it. And you just keep at it.