Women in film a focus of festival
‘Thirsty,’ directed and produced by two local women, among featured films this year
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.
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.
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.