The work of multidisciplinary artist Alix Lambert often shines a light on the dark sides of life. As a documentary filmmaker, visual artist, TV and film writer-producer, photographer, musician, animator and author, her focus spotlights loss, transformation of identity, the forgotten, social injustice, violence, death and societal perspectives in a world where tweets aim for shock value rather than shock at the world we live in. Enter Lambert, a prolific observer and storyteller who, in addressing crime, injustice and the dark side, also uncovers how we survive and flourish in the face of adversity and the unexpected.
Her latest project, “The Edge of Daybreak,” a 2018 short film, tells an extraordinary yet obscure story of a prison soul band by the same name. We learn how their album, “Eyes of Love,” recorded on September 14, 1979 in the confines of the Powhatan Correction Center, rose from the band’s love of music, determination and creativity beyond prison walls.
Lambert heard about this prison band while preparing a podcast episode she was producing about music in prison. The story didn’t end up in the podcast, but Lambert was still interested in developing it into a film. Without much B-Roll, or supplemental footage, to work with she was able to capture the flavor of the times, not only with the music itself but with archival stills, footage and graphics.
Lambert interviews James Carrington, the keyboardist and leader of the band, as he tells of the unlikely journey of the band members meeting at Powhatan, writing songs, finding a local producer and recording seven songs in a restricted, five hour time limit in the visiting room of the facility with guards standing stoic behind each of them. In only one take, the members of The Edge of Daybreak created a flawless recording of original songs the band wrote and sang together.
This documentary takes twists and turns that shed light on Bohannon’s, a local record store that sent mail order records to prisoners, how Carrington’s work release program led to the renaming of that store to “Carrington’s” and the results of an encounter by Carrington in Virginia with a New York transplant, North Carolina native Jon Kirby, eventually resulted in the re-issuing of this classic record.
After being released from incarceration, Carrington returned to his community and roots in gospel music and is now a well-known, successful local entrepreneur. The other members, who have since been released, still live in the area and enjoy playing and singing on their own. “The Edge of Daybreak” recently premiered in Richmond, Virginia where the story, and its four main musicians are based, so that band members, Carrington, Cornelius “Neal” Cade, guitarist, Jamal Nubi, drummer, and Harry “Cupcake” Coleman, percussionist, could attend along with some of their family members and the local community.
When asked what was the most surprising thing Lambert learned about the band members and the album while working on this film, she said, “Rather than surprised, I was amazed that the album was so extraordinary and beautiful, especially under the conditions in which it was made. I’m a big fan of the band.” She has plans to expand this story further.
Lambert grew up in Washington, D.C. and studied art at a high school magnet program where she recognized the power of making art. She left for New York City at age seventeen where she attended the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design. Her studies and art have taken her to many parts of the world. She has also lectured at numerous universities and has given a “TEDx Talk” on reaction to her film, “Mentor.”
Lambert’s full-length feature documentaries include, “The Mark of Cain” (2000) about the language of tattoos in Russian Prisons; “Goodbye Fat Larry” about the murder of filmmaker Jon Pownall; and “Bayou Blue” (2011) about a serial killer in southwest Louisiana and “Mentor” (2014), her award-winning film about bullying and teenage suicide. Lambert has made a number of shorts, “Martha,” “Tiffany” and “Rabbits Among Them.” She made her first film in 1997, a mockumentary about a female band in the vein of “Spinal Tap.” Her writing and directing credits include work for HBO, PBS and “This American Life” She is also the author of a number of books.
In the introduction of her book, “Crime,” Lambert addresses two traumatic events that crossed her own path early in life. When asked how these experiences influenced her direction depicting dark and difficult topics, and in what way have these traumatic incidents drawn her to the losses and injustices placed upon others and depicted in many of her works, Lambert responded, “To the extent that at an early age I was aware of paying attention in regard to people I loved, there is certainly an indirect relationship to the topics I choose.”
The road taken by Lambert as a multidisciplinary artist is a rich and diverse one filled with its own unexpected twists and turns. Unlike those who approach with sensationalism the subject matter Lambert tackles, this artist remains fearless and determined to make us think beyond the shadows that are cast within the stories she tells.