Women in film a fo­cus of fes­ti­val

‘Thirsty,’ di­rected and pro­duced by two lo­cal women, among fea­tured films this year

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - PREVIEW -

WOOD­STOCK » Women in the in­de­pen­dent film world share a grow­ing part of the spot­light at this year’s Wood­stock Film Fes­ti­val, which runs through Sunday.

Two lo­cal women, Margo Pel­letier and Lisa Thomas, who live be­tween Athens and Catskill, di­rected and pro­duced “Thirsty,” which is set to be screened at the Sauger­ties Per­form­ing Arts Fac­tory one Ul­ster Av­enue in the vil­lage at 7 p.m. tonight.

Pel­letier, the di­rec­tor of “Thirsty,” de­scribed it as a “very sub­tly over-the-helm fea­ture mu­si­cal bio pic, with a lot of zany mo­ments.”

That bal­ances tough lessons the film re­veals about gen­der, Pel­letier said.

“Be ev­ery­thing you are, and en­joy the body you are born with, but present it in any way you want,” Pel­letier said.

Pel­letier said she’s ex­cited to screen “Thirsty” in the very spot that served as a lo­ca­tion for many scenes in the film.

“This par­tic­u­lar film was six years in the mak­ing from the time we met Scott Townsend to the time we started to put it on the fes­ti­val mar­ket,” Pel­letier said. “You can’t imag­ine how it feels to get ac­cess to the pub­lic.”

Pel­letier said Townsend first ex­ploited his fem­i­nin­ity as a young adult, and he be­came a pop­u­lar Cher per­former named “Thirsty Burling­ton” in Province­town, Mas­sachusetts on Cape Cod.

Pel­letier said the story of “Thirsty” be­gan six years ago when she trav­elled with Thomas to Province­town dur­ing the off sea­son.

“It’s usu­ally a very bustling town, lots of drag show and in things,” Pel­letier said. “In the in be­tween sea­sons peo­ple who live year­round still per­form.”

That’s when she said they stum­bled upon a “boy man” who told them, ‘girls, you have to come in to see this show,’”

“We didn’t have any­thing to see, so we sat down and got a drink,” Pel­letier said. “Shortly af­ter, a very gleam­ing Cher fig­ure came out on stage, talk­ing, walk­ing, dressed to the nines just like Cher.”

Pel­letier said they went through the whole gamut of emo­tions.

“Even­tu­ally we re­al­ized the fig­ure we were watch­ing is the same per­son who called us into the show.” Pel­letier said. “Putting gen­der on its head added to our to­tal en­joy­ment of this sit­u­a­tion.”

Pel­letier de­scribed Townsend as hav­ing a “very mag­netic per­son­al­ity.”

“He has a lit­tle wink in his eye,” Pel­letier said. “He con­nects with peo­ple in a fun, warm­hearted kind of way.

“He takes you on his ride.”

Pel­letier said she’s fas­ci­nated how Townsend, who was raised by a drug-ad­dicted sin­gled mom in ten­e­ments in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, in the 1970s and was of­ten bul­lied, trans­forms from male to fe­male.

“He’s not an­a­lyz­ing it thor­oughly,” Pel­letier said. “It’s taken him a long way,”

Thomas, the film’s pro­ducer, said they were blown away when they saw Townsend per­form in a club in Hud­son as part of an East Coast tour.

“The third time, we went to Cape Cod for a wed­ding, and we were go­ing to see it.” Thomas said. “He had moved to be a head­line at the Crown and An­chor in Province­town.”

Thomas said Townsend does drag in his own unique way.

“Thirsty seemed very ap­proach­able and non-threat­en­ing,” Thomas said, adding this con­trasted with a cul­ture that of­ten is lewd and ruf­fles the au­di­ence’s feath­ers a bit.

“Thirsty could in many ways be much more main­stream be­cause of the way Thirsty does her act,” Thomas said.

Thomas said they de­cided to leave a lit­tle card for him let­ting him know they were in­ter­ested in do­ing a film-re­lated pro­ject about him.

“We didn’t know if it’d be a doc­u­men­tary,” Pel­letier said.

Af­ter not hear­ing a word from Townsend for a cou­ple of days, they got a call from him.

Thomas said Townsend told her, “I get these cards all the time from peo­ple com­ing on to me, some­thing told me to call you two, this one’s for real.”

Thomas said it was af­ter that, they first ap­proached Townsend to find out the story of his life and be­gan to an­swer ques­tions about how he be­came this per­former.

“That’s when we de­cided to make this into a fea­ture, not a doc­u­men­tary,” Thomas said.

While it wasn’t a doc­u­men­tary, Thomas said they in­ter­viewed Townsend, his fam­ily mem­bers, res­i­dents of the ten­e­ment, other per­form­ers and ex-boyfriends.

“We had a script and we sent it out to readers in that pe­riod of time who loved and sent us a lot of notes,” Thomas said.

Thomas said about two years into the pro­ject they took part in a work­shop with Wood­stock film Fes­ti­val Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Meira Blaustein.

“We al­ready had a script but we hadn’t started pro­duc­tion,” Thomas said.

Af­ter hunt­ing for a lo­ca­tion to shoot the movie, they chose the Hud­son Valley, Thomas said

“We shot be­tween 90 and 95 per­cent of the film in Up­state New York,” Pel­letier said.

Be­yond the screen­ing, the night also fea­tures a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion with Townsend, Pel­letier and Thomas and an af­ter­party fea­tur­ing live per­for­mances by Thirsty Burling­ton, Lex Grey and the Top Dogs and com­poser Nicky Egan with food catered by SPAF owner Erica Price.

Wood­stock Film Fes­ti­val Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Meira Blaustein she’s ex­cited that “Thristy” was shot lo­cally and di­rected by a woman.

“That par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion is unique and be­ing cel­e­brated,” Blaustein said. “It means a lot to have it in the Film Fes­ti­val for them, and a lot for us as well.”

This year’s fes­ti­val also fea­tures a record num­ber of women-driven pan­els at the Klein­ert James Cen­ter on Saturday and Sunday.

New York-based nov­el­ist and film critic Thelma Adams mod­er­ates “Women in Film and Me­dia” at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Pan­elists in­clude Hud­son Valley res­i­dent Mary Stu­art Master­son, who has had roles in “Some Kind of Won­der­ful, “Fried Green Toma­toes” and has di­rected and pro­duced in­de­pen­dent films, net­work tele­vi­sion

and doc­u­men­tary the­ater; Cather­ine Hard­wicke, who di­rected “Twi­light” and won the Di­rec­tors Award for her first film “Thir­teen” at the 2003 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val; Am­ber Tablyn, who has re­ceived an Emmy, Golden Globe and In­de­pen­dent Spirit awards for her work in tele­vi­sion and film; along with di­rec­tor and in­de­pen­dent film­maker Bette Gor­don.

“Ac­tors Di­a­logue”, at 10 a.m. Sunday, fea­tures award-win­ning film and theatre ac­tor and di­rec­tor Karen Allen, who has stared in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “In­di­ana Jones and King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull,” “Scrooged” and “An­i­mal House”; and Alia Shawkat who played Maeby Funke in Fox’s Emmy Award-win­ning series “Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment” and stars in the new TBS dark com­edy “Search Party” which pre­mieres Nov. 21.

At 2 p.m. is a panel on fem­i­nism in the Mid­dle East re­volves around the “The Promised Band,” a doc­u­men­tary about a group of Pales­tinian young women who be­friended each other and cre­ated a band just as an ex­cuse to crisscross bor­ders. It pairs aca­demics and these women. Blaustein said.

PHOTO COUR­TESY THIN EDGE FILMS

The cast mem­bers of “Thirsty”, which tell’s the story of how Townsend went from pub­lic hous­ing in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachus­esetts to be­com­ing a well-known drag queen with his im­per­son­ation of Cher, work on a scene at the Sauger­ties Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Ul­ster Av­enue in Sauger­ties. The film, di­rected and pro­duced by Margo Pel­letier and Lisa Thomas, of Greene County, will be screened tonight at 7 p.m. at the Sauger­ties Per­form­ing Arts Fac­tory. Af­ter the screen­ing, Pel­letier, Thomas and Townsend will be on hand for a Q&A ses­sion and Townsend will per­form as Thirsty dur­ing the af­ter party.

PHOTO COUR­TESY THIN EDGE FILMS

Scott Townsend stars as Thirsty Burling­ton in “Thirsty”, which tells the story of Townsend’s jour­ney from pub­lic hous­ing in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachus­esetts to be­com­ing a well-known drag queen with his im­per­son­ation of Cher. The film, di­rected and pro­duced by Margo Pel­letier and Lisa Thomas of Greene County, will be screened tonight at 7 p.m. at the Sauger­ties Per­form­ing Arts Fac­tory on Ul­ster Av­enue, which served as film­ing lo­ca­tion for the fea­ture.

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