Bluesman Steve White was a presence in Europe.
  • Bluesman Steve White was a presence in Europe.
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“I never got to interview him because [doctors] had taken his voice away, and I didn’t want to do that.” When Leucadia-based filmmaker Clint Burkett began work on a documentary about Steve White last year, he didn’t know the North County bluesman was dying of esophageal cancer. “When I found out he was sick, I started shooting the benefits and interviewing friends and fellow musicians.” Burkett edited the rough footage in June.

The finished result is Steve White: Painting the World with Music, a 75-minute rockumentary that premiers August 14 at the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. “It starts like his music: rapid, with sound bites and clips of him playing. It draws your attention right away. That’s how he played. He got your attention.” He says the story of White’s life is otherwise told through interviews with family, copies of radio interviews, and performance videos.

To make Painting the World, Burkett gained permission to use footage of concerts filmed in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Vermont, and here at the Adams Avenue Roots Festivals. “Steve was huge in Europe. I don’t think people realize how huge he was there. He would pack concert halls. There were billboards [advertising his concerts] on the street.”

White died on April 22. He was 61.

“I didn’t think he was going to die, to tell you the truth. I took Steve to the Leucadian to see Ben Powell play, probably a month before he passed. He said I can’t wait until next year, until all this health stuff is over. His mind was constantly going, constantly reinventing himself.”

Will the documentary reveal a side of White’s personality that is not already known? “He was an amazing painter,” says Burkett. “He kept that part private.” Hence, the film title, he explains. “He made hundreds of paintings,” many of which, Burkett says, are featured in the documentary.

Burkett, an Emmy-winning video producer and editor, tells me the White documentary is self-financed. “My number one goal is I want Steve’s name, his art, and his music known around the world.” To that end, Burkett says he will submit to Sundance and other international film festivals. “I’ve already got a request to show the film in Germany.”

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