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Sarah McLachlan reflects on Lilith Fair impact with new documentary

Toronto filmmaker Ally Pankiw directs with goal of providing a deeper understanding of the festival

Sarah McLachlan’s legendary all-female music festival Lilith Fair is getting the documentary treatment.

Producers at CBC and Elevation Pictures say they’ve partnered with Dan Levy’s Not A Real Production Company on the feature-length project “Lilith Fair,” which doesn’t yet have a release date.

The Lilith Fair documentary is directed by Toronto filmmaker Ally Pankiw, who’s worked on episodes of “Schitt’s Creek,” “Black Mirror” and Mae Martin dramedy “Feel Good.”

Lilith Fair was a major cultural movement of the late 1990s led by McLachlan and her team as an answer to the male-dominated industry of the era and its tendency to limit the number of women on a concert bill.

The all-female touring showcase started as a 1996 test run of four concerts with only McLachlan and Paula Cole. By the next year, it had blossomed into a full-scale tour with Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Indigo Girls and an array of other female musicians. The second year’s lineup included Bonnie Raitt and Erykah Badu.

All those performers reflect on their Lilith Fair memories in the documentary, as do younger artists influenced by the movement, including Brandi Carlile and Olivia Rodrigo.

The Lilith Fair production was inspired by the 2019 Vanity Fair article “Building a Mystery: An Oral History of Lilith Fair,” and draws on more than 600 hours of archival footage, as well as interviews from fans and people who worked behind the scenes.

While the original Lilith Fair only ran for three summers, from 1997 to 1999, it’s credited for driving conversations around female representation and drawing attention to newcomers that included Missy Elliott, Nelly Furtado and Dido.

It also sparked a media frenzy, with McLachlan appearing on the covers of Time magazine and Rolling Stone and drawing backlash in some circles for the concert tour’s feminist goals.

“I was asked to defend it every step of the way,” McLachlan told The Canadian Press in a 2017 interview.

“It was either too feminist or not feminist enough.”

“Lilith Fair” will first be released theatrically before it screens as part of CBC’s “The Passionate Eye” during its 2025-26 season.

This marks Pankiw’s first documentary and she says her goal is to offer “a deeper understanding of the festival to the young female, non-binary and queer musicians and music fans.”

Levy added that Lilith Fair was one of the first spaces where he remembered “feeling at home.”

“What Sarah built with that festival changed so much for so many people,” he said in a statement.

“And while it is now seen as an odds-defying success story, it was an uphill battle every step of the way. And there is a lot to be learned from that story.”

READ ALSO: Sarah McLachlan and producer Pierre Marchand share stories behind ‘Surfacing’