Buffy Saint-Marie Documentary 'Carry It On' Shows That She Was Decades Ahead of the Rest of Us Directed by Madison Thomas

Starring Buffy Saint-Marie, Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Jeremy Dutcher, George Stroumboulopoulos, Taj Mahal, John Kay
Buffy Saint-Marie Documentary 'Carry It On' Shows That She Was Decades Ahead of the Rest of Us Directed by Madison Thomas
Photo courtesy of TIFF
Many a music doc has been ruined by a sense of reverence for its own subject (see: fawning recent tributes to Coldplay, Shawn Mendes and Shania Twain). But while Buffy Saint-Marie: Carry It On is definitely in service of its star, this is no puff piece. Rather, it's a raw, searing portrait of an artist and activist who has been ahead of her time every step of the way.

Written by Sainte-Marie biographer Andrea Warner (who once penned a career retrospective about the artist for Exclaim!) and directed by Madison Thomas, Carry It On is only partly a music doc. Yes, it gets into the stories behind a few songs and paints a vivid portrait of the bohemian folk scene in New York City cafes in the early '60s, but it wisely doesn't attempt to offer a complete rundown of Sainte-Marie's music career.

Instead, the most moving moments concern the 81-year-old Cree artist's unrelenting dedication to social and political causes. A wealth of archival footage highlights how she decried the genocide of Indigenous people in the '60s (long before it was widely discussed in those terms), insisted that white people couldn't portray Indigenous characters when acting on a 1968 episode of The Virginian, and was shown breastfeeding on TV in 1977. Time and again, her actions feel of-the-moment in 2022 — except she did this decades ago.

Interviews with Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Jeremy Dutcher and others reinforce Sainte-Marie's enduring influence. In a particularly candid moment, Mitchell argues that she doesn't like the message of the song "Universal Soldier" — it was a brave choice on behalf of the filmmakers to include this, and it helps to round out the portrait of Saint-Marie's provocative and uncompromising message.

As well as the powerful politics, Carry It On includes frank discussions of abuse and is a harrowing watch. But every step of the way, Sainte-Marie is passionate and unguarded, and every word she says simply radiates off the screen. She was in the audience at my screening, and got up afterward to answer a few questions from the audience. From the hush in the room, it was clear that everyone was similarly awed. (Crave)