Directed by Richard Peete and Robert Yapkowitz, the trailer features archival footage of Dalton, from her upbringing in Oklahoma to her days in New York City’s Greenwich Village folk scene, where she sang with Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, and others. It chronicles her tumultuous life that ended with her death in 1993 from AIDS when she was just 55 years old — and the cult following she’s had since.
“Rob and I have been fans of Karen’s for a long time — she felt like a secret to us,” Peete tells Rolling Stone. “We were at a bar in Brooklyn, and there was a jukebox and it felt like all of Karen’s peers were on there, but Karen’s music wasn’t. And we got frustrated. We loved the Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me, and we realized that that really helped solidify his fame and helped him get more recognition. So we decided to set out to make a film about Karen. We were going to do it in six months to a year, and she was going to be this celebrated musician and get the credit that she deserved. And that was seven years ago, so it took a little bit longer.”
Following a 2018 fire that destroyed Dalton’s archive, Peete and Yapkowitz teamed up with Dalton’s daughter Abralyn Baird and her estate to salvage footage and gather material. “Abby was like, ‘Don’t bother,'” Peete recalls. “‘You’re not going to find anything and there’s nobody that’s going to want to watch the movie. People have tried before and they give up when they realize how little information there is about her.’ Rob and I were just really up for that challenge. That excited us more than anything.”
Dalton also left her journals behind, which Angel Olsen reads out loud throughout the film. “Her journals were the closest we could get to giving her a voice in the movie,” Yapkowitz notes. “We always knew we wanted an interesting artist to read them, and Angel was our first choice. She was amazing to work with, a great voice actor.”
Adds Olsen: “It was an extreme honor to perform the voice of Karen Dalton in this stunning film about her life and music, and the thoughts and experiences we have of her gathered in between.”
The film is named after Dalton’s 1971 In My Own Time, her second and final album following 1969’s It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best. Light in the Attic will reissue In My Own Time in honor of its 50th anniversary, with liner notes by Cave, Lenny Kaye, and Devendra Banhart. Following its theater run in October, the film will be released digitally on November 16th.