Valentine’s Day weekend brings the area premiere of a new documentary that takes a candid look at New York’s drag performers — and a side of the art form most audiences don’t get to see.
“Charmed Life” features three generations of drag performers with East Village legend Sweetie (“To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,” “Starbooty” and “Project Runway”) at the center of it all.
“I guess I’m the biggest focus of the documentary, but it does touch on a lot of drag performers’ lives,” Daniel Booth, Sweetie’s alter ego, said about the film. “I act as a facilitator throughout the film. I sit down and talk with the other performers. There’s a performer called Mother Flawless Sabrina who started doing drag in the 1950s. Then there are performers that have just broke out one or two years ago.”
The documentary has already made a considerable splash at festivals such as Atlanta Out On Film and the New York International Film Festival where, according to Booth, audiences have had nothing but love for it.
“The response has been really good,” he said. “New York City was a much more familiar crowd. It was our hometown crowd. As each drag star would come on to the screen, there was a thunderous applause. Across the board, the reaction has been positive and warm.”
Not a bad result for something that started off with a less-ambitious scope. Kat Delaney, a New Jersey native and the film’s director, said she found her way into the project via the Internet.
“I have to say it must have been kismet,” she said. “I was feeling very bored and not inspired. I was in Craigslist in New York looking to see if there were artists who were interested in pairing up with other artists. There was an ad from Sweetie looking for a director to do a public-access talk show. I e-mailed her and said I’m a fan of drag, I’m not familiar with your work, but let’s discuss it. We met and we hit it off and we decided we were going to work together. We conceived of this project and started filming her Saturday-night shows. We just kept filming and the rest is a documentary.”
Booth praised Delaney’s filming style, saying it made the process easier for him.
“I had no idea how I would react to someone following me around for two years with a camera,” he said. “What was so wonderful about dealing with Kat is her approach is very much fly-on-the-wall. There was never any intrusion into your life. She was so effortless in her way of being able to capture things on film and at the same time make you feel completely comfortable and open with someone being there filming moments of your life.”
Delaney equally commended Booth, saying that his understanding of drag helped to bring the documentary’s subjects into focus.
“He has a universal understanding of how drag is seen,” she said. “He understands it’s not the norm. He comes from a religious background and he understands that, because it’s not in the mainstream, it’s easily misunderstood and misrepresented. You’d think he’d have a personal agenda because that’s how he makes his living, but he really just wants people to understand it so they can appreciate it. He realizes how much work and discipline it takes. He’s very open, down to earth, able to laugh at himself and understands that it’s controversial.”
“The film actually gives great insight into who the people are behind the makeup,” Booth added. “There are great performance moments in the film but it concentrates on who these people are off stage as opposed to who they are in front of an audience.”
“Charmed Life” will screen at 9:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Rainbow Mountain Resort, 210 Mt. Nebo Road, East Stroudsburg. Sweetie performs at 9 p.m. Feb. 13.