For the past eleven years, Executive Director Eric Raddatz has selected a film with special appeal to open the Fort Myers Film Festival. This year is no exception. The 12and The annual Fort Myers Film Festival will open on Wednesday, May 18 with Girls Calendara documentary film about a group of experienced local volunteer dancers who are determined to prove that age is just a number.
Since 2005, the Calendar Girls have been dancing in the hearts of Southwest Florida residents and vacationers. Known for their impressive makeup, handmade costumes, choreographed dance routines, and bubbly, effervescent personalities, the troupe performs over 100 public and private performances each year. Although they often appear at other organizations’ fundraising events, all money they earn from their appearances goes to support Southeastern Guide Dogs’ mission to support veterans with disabilities. And one of the reasons the girls are particularly excited to see their documentary released locally is the spotlight it will put on guide dogs in the Southeast – as longtime member Lynn Hutton says. .
“You know what the best part of the Fort Myers Film Festival is going to be? Our puppy breeders will be there with our guide dogs in training and some of the guide dogs we’ve sponsored. That’s our heart. That’s why we’re dancing. It’s to raise money for a future guide dog. Miracles with tails,” she said.
Although the Calendar Girls are used to being asked for selfies and photo ops, being featured in a documentary was the last thing they expected. It happened after an event in Cape Coral a few years ago. In the audience were two aspiring Swedish filmmakers, Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen. Although they had some reservations, the girls said yes. But it wasn’t for the attention they would receive personally or as a team. On the contrary, they were impressed with why Maria and Love wanted to shoot the film. Katherine Shortlidge, director of the Calendar Girls program, explains.
“In Europe, when people retire, they don’t volunteer. They don’t work at the Lee Memorial pushing a little cart. They stay at home and don’t do much. So they thought it would be important in Sweden to show that these older American women retire and then they give back to their country, they give back to the military, they give back to their community.
But the Calendar Girls didn’t know what was in store for them, as Tina Pegler, who like Shortlidge, has been a Calendar Girl since the team’s inception in 2005, explains:
“We thought this documentary was going to be maybe a few days or something, but this documentary led to three years of filming, where they were putting microphones on a lot of us and during practices and going to all sorts of of shows, then interviewing too… some of us were interviewed in our homes. So that’s how it started.
For a time, the troupe thought the documentary would only be released in Sweden or perhaps elsewhere in Europe. That changed last December when the film was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Although there is plenty of footage of the entire team practicing and performing, the film follows the stories of four individual members. Although Katherine Shortlidge asked Maria and Love not to focus, in her words, on female drama, the storytelling inevitably includes Kardashian moments. But, Katherine and the rest of the girls were pleasantly surprised.
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“I knew they had put years of their lives into it, working full time and doing it at night, raising two young kids. I knew what they were putting in it, but I knew what we put in. And I didn’t know how they were going to put it all together, but it’s beautifully done and it’s tasteful…. And I was the one who would be the most picky about… I worked hard here… don’t Don’t sully this team’s reputation with too much junky drama.
The documentary is so well done that Juno Films bought the distribution rights at the end of Sundance and plans to release it in theaters around the world starting this summer. But before that, Girls Calendar will be screened at some film festivals. For example, it premiered last weekend at the Sarasota Film Festival, where the team not only got to see it for the first time on the big screen, but in front of a live audience. Lynn Hutton, for her part, was blown away by the experience.
“There were paparazzi and red carpet, but the best part for me was seeing the audience and their reaction. A gentleman stood up and said, ‘I didn’t think I was going to like this documentary, but I loved it. And there were almost a hundred people. We were wondering if there would be three people in the audience. There were almost a hundred people there. It was so, so exciting.
As a bonus, they were even able to meet and have their picture taken with Jacqueline Bisset. But they suddenly found themselves in the role of celebrities too.
“We blew them away because after the documentary we got up and played,” reports Lynn Hutton. “It was alluded to… we came off the screen and got down on the floor and we played with the big bright lights and they were like oh my God. In fact, they wanted an encore.
With more film festivals on the horizon, the girls are looking forward to the Fort Myers Film Festival, where they’ll also perform a dance number and participate in a Q&A.
Tina Pegler is impatient.
“In Sarasota, we felt like when Lynn talked about the red carpet and the celebrities and some of them got to be interviewed outside by an educational television producer, it sounded like Hollywood Stars. So imagine being in our own home region, our own county, it’s going to feel like, wow, you know us, you’ve seen us and now look where we are. Look where we are. Look what has changed…”
The Calendar Girls can’t help but be flattered and amazed by the buzz created by the documentary. But that’s just the proverbial icing on the cake. Having people see the documentary can not only boost contributions to Southeastern Guide Dogs, but it will also remind viewers that there is a lot of life to live after retirement. Pegler and Hutton offer this idea:
Tina: “It’s important to show them that no matter how old you are, you can still be young on the inside. No matter how old you are, you can still move and you can still entertain and it’s kind of like, like I said in the documentary, I feel like wearing makeup and wearing earrings and costumes , you can feel like a super hero.
Lynn: Every day is Halloween.
Tina: Exactly, you can be whoever you want to be. I never care what anyone thinks. I will do what I want to do with my life. This is how I am and you are the same. But I just think it’s a great feeling to be able to do that. And Katherine just took us and I helped her through the 17 years and it’s been a great ride.
You can watch the documentary, see the Calendar Girls perform and have your photo taken with them under the lights of Jim Sanborn’s light sculptures outside the Sidney & Bern Davis Art Center on May 18.and at the opening of the Fort Myers Film Festival.
You can also catch a preview of the documentary on April 22.n/a under the stars on the lawn of Henry Ford’s winter home at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates with one of Thomas Edison’s first talkies and a documentary by local filmmaker Ilene Safron titled The Koreshans: Legends and Legacies of Estero’s Urban Pioneers.
To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida, visit Tom Hall’s website: SWFL Art in the News.
Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.