Developer and producer of content Kathleen Ermitage wrote directed and produced a new film titled Mixtape Trilogy: Stories of the Power of Music. This dynamic documentary covers three different artists the band Indigo Girls, rapper Talib Kweli and composer Vijay Iyer. The story revolves around the musician's creative process as well as the fans that follow them.
This eclectic Mixtape kicks off with the history of rock music duo Indigo Girls and devout fan Dylan Yellowlees to discover a community together at their concerts.
Ermitage lives in the Denver Metropolitan Area and works as an associate producer for Crew Neck Productions.
On November 12, 2023, an exclusive screening was held at the Davis Theater in Chicago to benefit The People’s Music School. Ermitage sat down for a brief interview to discuss her project before the showing began.
JN: (Jerry Nunn) Start off with where are you from.
KE: (Kathleen Ermitage) I grew up in Arlington Heights and I went to Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University. I studied English literature and poetry. That has transferred well into filmmaking because it’s a visual medium and poetry is all about images. For me that made a lot of sense.
I worked in educational publishing for a while and then in educational video production. I started working on documentaries in 2008 in Chicago with a Cubs film with director John Scheinfeld, who owns Crew Neck Productions, which is in Los Angeles. I still work with him today.
JN: What led you to this project?
KE: I moved to the Denver area in 2015. I got married and was networking trying to raise money for another film. For that film it began in 2010 in Chicago and we are starting up again now. It has all come full circle.
Through this, I met a guy named Alan Cogen who does a lot of philanthropy work. One of which is called Pathways to Jazz and he wanted to make a film about the power of music. He had seen another film that I had worked on called Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary which came out in 2016 and went to Telluride and Toronto Film Festival. Through mutual colleagues, he got in touch with me and asked if I would work with him
JN: Mixtape has already done well in film festivals from what I was seeing.
KE: Yes. We had a really nice festival run last year where we went to seven different ones.
JN: How did you choose your subjects for this film?
KE: I had a wish list. I wanted different kinds of music and music that would challenge me. I also wanted musicians that I didn’t know very well or wanted to know more about. The Indigo Girls were at the top of my list. When I learned they would be a part of my film I was really excited. I ran up and down the hall of my house!
I had to pitch the movie, so I had to explain what it would be about. I am so grateful to all of the musicians in the film. We thought three stories would be good and four stories would be too much. I picked three different genres of music.
I knew Vijay Iyer from his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” He is also a great advocate for all kinds of causes. I started reading his Twitter feed and discovered he’s much more than a musician, so I knew he would be a compelling subject.
Talib Kweli, who is a hip-hop architect I found first and from Detroit. He is a fantastic lyricist and his words are poetry. For me, that was great fun because I could take the songs apart.
JN: He has played at City Winery many times over the years and I always wondered why he wasn’t more famous.
KE: He is still out there making music and doing entrepreneurial projects. He gave us a wonderful interview. I love all of the people in the film, but Talib Kweli did a great job. He was eloquent and a well-spoken, smart guy.
JN: I have interviewed Amy Ray and Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls in the past. I found them to be very down-to-earth. What did you take away from them?
KE: Exactly what you said. They walk the walk and talk the talk. They are exactly what you want them to be.
Sometimes people don’t want to meet their heroes, but they are very kind and thoughtful. I also found them to be generous and warm. I will never forget it.
It is in the film where we take apart the song “Go.” I was sitting as far away from them as I am from you now. I had to pinch myself. I was in the presence of incredible musicianship and their gorgeous voices were right in front of me. They walked me through the process of the song
They could remember what inspired them to write it. It plays in real-time in the film. The audience is able to see them deconstruct what they were thinking about when they were making that piece of music. They are sweet people!
JN: When I saw the Indigo Girls as openers for R.E.M. in 1989. They weren’t out and neither was I. Who was the fan you focused on for their story?
KE: Dylan Yellowlees has seen the Indigo Girls hundreds of times. When it is announced during screenings people usually gasp with shock by this fact. Dylan grew up in the Chicago area too and also a Cubs fan. Now I see Dylan all the time because they live close to where I live now.
Dylan took the Indigo Girls’ music and found a community that they felt welcomed into. They used the teachings and inspiration of what the Indigo Girls have accomplished and they did something themselves to give back to the community
JN: How did you find Dylan?
KE: I did a lot of research. I am very good at finding people. I can’t remember exactly how, but there were a few people that really stood out as a fan. Dylan was it.
JN: I have attended their concerts together and Amy Ray’s solo show, but never noticed how close-knit the community was. It was a safe space before people talked about safe spaces.
KE: The first time I saw the Indigo Girls was at the Riviera Theatre.
JN: I was there.
KE: Were you? One thing I remember was being frisked. I have never been frisked like that before or since. It is my favorite part of town and I love going to the Green Mill. It is a really special part of Chicago.
The Indigo Girls have fantastic music and they have a great community. We could say that about the Grateful Dead or The Rolling Stones, but there is something different about the company that the Indigo Girls keep and have created. Their spaces have been important for LGBTQ rights, but also for Get Out the Vote. Their advocacy and activism is as much a part of them as their music.
JN: Their opening acts have been important to watch over the years as well. Look at Brandi Carlile
KE: I saw Brandi at Red Rocks last year.
JN: We need to go to a concert together! Is there another musician that you would like to tackle for a Mixtape film?
KE: Yes. I would love to make more of these and there are endless possibilities. I could put three other kinds of musicians together and still find something that would tie them all together.
In this case it was social justice. We didn’t force it in, but it was there in their work and life. It is in the film, but we didn’t want to hit people over the head with it.
Brandi Carlile I would to make a film on and also XTC.
JN: Andy Partridge has stage fright and won’t perform live.
KE: He is too shy, but he would still be a fascinating interview. Liz Phair is a Chicago gal.
JN: She told me to always bring my articles to the artists after they are published because people appreciate that.
KE: She’s a good one. If Aretha Franklin was still alive I would like to put her on the Mixtape. There will never be another like her.
JN: I agree. What are you working on next?
KE: I am working on a film now about kid entrepreneurs and altruism. We filmed these kids in 2010 and now they are young adults. I have footage of them from 2010 when they were in an after-school program where they learned to be entrepreneurs and pay it forward. They gave a part of their earnings to someone else to start another business. We not only followed the money but we followed the altruism. We wanted to see how far paying it forward could go.
I will be directing it and it was a journey. It felt like a marathon and I had to regroup my energy after it was filmed.
JN: What is it called?
KE: It was called Think Big, Start Small, but that will probably change.
JN: I like the title.
KE: Do you? Maybe you can be my co-producer! [laughs] So I have that and I still work with Crew Neck Productions in Los Angeles. I worked on three other films while I was working on Mixtape Trilogy. I have a baseball movie that I am working on for television. We finished one that is nominated for a Critics Choice Award. We will find out tonight. It is against the Taylor Swift movie and several others. It is called What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat and Tears? I worked on it, not as a director, but as a producer.
JN: Well, I wish I had met you before I voted as a Critics Choice Documentary voter.
KE: That’s okay. I am just happy for my friends John Scheinfeld and David Harding. It is a political thriller and if you get a chance you should see it!
Visit mixtapetrilogy.com to find out more and stream the film today!