Winners of Us All
Charles Konowal, Director
Brendon Sawatzky, Producer
Charles Konowal, Producer
About the Project
Watermelon Slim is a Vietnam vet and an internationally acclaimed blues musician from the Mississippi Delta. Home to the very crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.
All elderly blues musicians endure, Slim has endured. 50 years of wandering and hard labour harvesting success from failure, pain, love and loneliness. In spite of it all Slim still tours but now realizes something is missing. Situated at the famous crossroads he works on a new plan.
“Winners of Us All” is a tale about an unusual musician: a witty philosopher, a watermelon farmer, activist and an award-winning gay blues musician.
“I’ve never written any gay blues songs, I’ve lived straight, but I’m also gay. The blues is a heterosexual profession.”
In his seventies, Slim is finally ‘coming out’ something not easy to do. Accepting the realization that his chosen career didn’t include space for his sexual orientation. Realizing he was more practiced living closeted than following his true desires. Many elderly LGBTQ2+ people feel shamed into silence, even as the tide is changing. In this sense Slims actions provide an important example for seniors providing a voice to be heard.
Slim is re-orientating his life to explore new possibilities. Finding love has him questioning his activities. As a musician he wants to experiment, and the best way forward is to leave the crossroads and head to Canada.
“I have more friends in Winnipeg... Big Dave McClean is there, and in fact Winnipeg is the very closest Canadian city to Mississippi.”
Slim will travel to Winnipeg in early 2023 with a new crop of songs, together with a well -established Canadian team of producers and musicians. Slim will be encouraged to explore his inner boundaries, long bottled up in the blues. He’ll be working with musicians who have formed Dream Play, an artist hub “Where anything can happen, and everything is possible”. Slim’s new perspectives will be given the opportunity to journey to new territory.
In 1989, he tried marriage, in those days a gay life was not allowed. The marriage failed but it did give him Jesse, a beautiful daughter. During the 80’s Bill fell for a brilliant professor working as his field assistant in Oklahoma. They rummaged through old courthouse files discovering injustices done at the turn of the last century to the Choctaw Indians. They were lovers on a righteous mission to fight injustice, they fought Westinghouse, Dow Chemical, Union Carbide and the Government even when the odds of winning were impossible.
“I was Richard's assistant, chauffeur and bodyguard. We were lovers until 1993 but both had heterosexual agendas. Back in those days, the downsides were just too tough.”
‘Coming out’ as a bluesman is likely career ending. Never mind the fact that he has lived his entire life masquerading as straight. This film includes issues of LGBTQ2+ but more profoundly it includes reflections from an elders position on how to navigate these newly opened up possibilities after decades of living closeted. Examples like Slim as an LGBTQ2+ elder are not in the zeitgeist and need to be brought to the public attention.
At a truck stop he relaxes with a bowl of soup and checks his emails and finds a message that makes his heart flutter.
“We first met on a gay dating site. I’m surprised he got back in touch. We are in contact frequently now.”
Through an animated collage of images Slim describes the first time he heard the blues in 1954 at the age of five. Ms. Beulah Huggins, a domestic would sing John Lee Hooker songs. Bill expresses Ms. Huggins had bestowed a spiritual gift to him which transcended race.
In the 1970s and 80s he banged around. He enjoyed philosophy and joined Mensa with an above average IQ. In 1986 he got a bachelors’ degree in history and journalism. 30 years of drifting, Slim drove trucks, worked construction, even grew watermelons. Two things separated him from your average bottom-runger: he could never stop thinking, reflecting, and philosophizing; and he played the blues. In 2002 he met Chris Hardwick, a music producer, and, for Slim a lifesaver. He recorded three LPs for Slim that led to signing with Northern Blues.
“I was asked to record some original blues music with local bands for a radio show “The Weekend Blues” in Norman, Oklahoma. Each band must have 60 min of original music. The day of the session I met Slim; he was a truck driver for a local trash company. His work clothes were dirty and smelly but as I listened, I was very impressed, there are many talented musicians in blues but only a few have that something special, Slim has that.” - Chris Hardwick
At fifty-something, he had finally arrived. After a 20-hour drive, Slim arrives in Winnipeg. He makes his way to the Song Shop where Scott Nolan his producer is waiting, they will spend the next two weeks creating, collaborating, and exploring Slim’s new music.
Director/Cinematographer - Charles Konowal,csc
Charles Konowal is best known as a cinematographer/filmmaker with over 40 years of experience in fiction and non-fiction production. He has directed and produced numerous documentaries over the years for various clients. He has worked for the IMAX Corporation as a producer on Flowers in the Sky, the first IMAX Magic Carpet production for the 1990 Garden and Greenery Expo in Osaka. He also worked as the assistant director on the 3D Imax production, Mark Twains America for Sony Classics.
Over the years he has photographed numerous documentaries for Canadian and US networks. He has worked on many productions for the National Film Board of Canada, producing the NFB’s first Peabody award for the feature documentary, Fat Chance. And for the past 10 years as been producing, directing and photographing award winning documentaries through his own company Kono Films Ltd.
Co-Director/ Creative Producer - Daniel Cross
As founder of EyeSteelFilm, Daniel has been a central figure in the international documentary community for over 25 years. His process-driven and hyper-personal approach, as director, as producer and as educator, have had a profound influence on a generation of documentary filmmakers. Films such The Street: a film with the homeless, S.P.I.T.: Squeegee Punks in Traffic, Homeless Nation, Up the Yangtze, Last Train Home and more than 40 other feature documentary films are all testament to his level of discipline and sensitive approach to complex cultural situations. His most recent film as director - producer I Am the Blues received the Canadian Screen Award (Canada’s Oscar) for Best Theatrical Documentary and Best Cinematography. Daniel is a Professor at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University in Montreal.