By Jeff Milo
LISA HAGOPIAN AND ERIC HARABADIAN ARE THE MARRIED VIDEOGRAPHY DUO behind two full-length documentary films focusing on local music and celebrating the heritage of Metro Detroit’s blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
They completed their new film, Paradise Boogie, this past Summer. And they just hosted an event for the.ir previous film, Nothin’ But Music, at Found Sound last month, complete with an in-store DVD signing and acoustic performances from some of the musicians prominently featured, including local icons Benny Jet, Howard Glazer and Nate Jones.
Harabadian is a longtime musician with experience as a freelance culture reporter; he also knows his way around a camera. Hagopian, meanwhile, was “the real shutterbug” of the two, with extensive experience as a photographer. They caught the filmmaking bug in 2007, when the opportunity to collaborate on a documentary film on Cobo Hall briefly manifested. They knew they wanted to try something on their own and inspiration struck when Harabadian considered how remarkable it was that his longtime friend, Benny Jet, had found the right combination of drive, intuition and determination to forge a career out of music.
“(Jet)’s been able to make a living for 40+ years. Same with Howard Glazer,” said Harabadian. “(Music)’s all they’ve ever done and that’s always blown my mind. And, so we were trying to tap into what it is that they do to make it work, and how they define success.”
“I think it’s fascinating,” Hagopian said, “that through the making of documentaries, we’re able to get to know and learn about interesting people we might not have met otherwise.” Some of those folks include former MC5 manager jazz-artist/poet John Sinclair and legendary local blues musician Billy Davis. “(Documentary filmmaking) becomes a way of expanding our world and continually exploring and learning about people.”
While Nothin’ But Music took six years to complete, Paradise Boogie was finished in 18 months. But Hagopian particularly enjoyed the narrative arc of those six years’ worth of interviews, as it was tied together poignantly by an early interview in 2010 with Jet during which his then-10-year-old grandson, Dominic, made some exuberant cameos, cross-cut with a 2016 clip of Dominic as a young adult, performing alongside his grandfather. In fact, the way Nothin’ was able to intertwine music-making generations in that way would go on to inform their approach to the narrative of Paradise Boogie.
“Once you start something like this, you get so intrigued that you don’t want to give it up. So, we continued with Paradise Boogie, but this time we wanted to do something different. We wanted to make it not just about the past, but about the present and then the future (of blues music).” That arc is embodied endearingly in their film when they captured Billy Davis, a veteran performer at age 80, with ‘Mighty Michael,’ a spry new torchbearer of the Blues at just ten-years-old.
With a few other credits to their resume, they’ve co-founded their own production company, Vision 561. Both Hagopian and Harabadian consider the last eight years of work to be revelatory -informing their own approach and work ethic, but also opening their eyes to the vastly deep well of talent residing right here in southeast Michigan.
“For Paradise Boogie,” Hagopian said, “I learned that it’s not just the musicians, but also the fans who are very passionate; it’s a tight-knit, supportive community.”
“I thought I knew a lot of the scene, already,” Harabadian remarked, “but as we dug into the history, particularly talking about Paradise Valley and the Black Bottom neighborhoods of Detroit in the ’40s and ’50s and to then see what’s going on throughout the blues scene today, I realized I just knew the basics. But this led us to do a lot of research. That’s the beauty of this journalistic aspect of making documentaries: You do your homework, and then it comes to life (on film).” And they admit that there are still so many blues musicians they could’ve covered.
Looking back on two films, the pair have a piece of advice for aspiring documentarians. “The DIY philosophy that people can sometimes pay lipservice to … ? It’s real. .. !” Harabadian said. “Go out there and start filming!”
Nothin’ But Music was screened at several notable venues (Magic Stick, PJs Lager House) as well as film festivals like North By Midwest. Paradise Boogie was accepted into this year’s Royal Star Film Festival and, as we went to print, they’re awaiting word back from 15 other film festivals, including a new event in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.