A conversation with the documentary director
Expectations can sometimes limit the mind’s capacity to embrace the totality of something unconditionally beautiful. So when Jeremy Hackworth reached out to me a few weeks ago asking that I consider running a piece on the Florida debut of “Us, Naked: Trixie and Monkey,” I reluctantly agreed.
There were the obvious reasons to promote the documentary. Sure, I love the Tropic Cinema and do my small part to support. And I knew Jeremy by reputation—a local fireman and small business owner who everyone seemed to like. He had worked hard to orchestrate the event by gathering sponsors, coordinating with the Tropic and scheduling the trips for the cast and director. And like many in Key West, he was a fan of Trixie and Monkey and their circus-burlesque act.
It was the documentary genre, as a whole, that gave me pause. But I sat down to watch anyway … and found “Us Naked: Trixie and Monkey” to be one of the most inspiring stories of courage, honesty, dedication and love on screen today. It is a symbolic parallel between the director, Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander and her subjects of seven years, who both were “trying to sustain their art while trying to sustain a household.”
This is a “can’t miss event” in a city that offers many to choose from. Yet, in her own words, director Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander describes the journey leading up the international phenomenon and success of Trixie and Monkey.
KW: What were you searching for when you embarked on this documentary?
Hollander: I was looking for a project that would tell the story of artistic perseverance and I thought I would interview a lot of artists in Baltimore. At the same time, my husband and I were discovering that artistic reverence isn’t just an act of reverence—it also requires sacrifice.
KW: So what led you to Trixie and Monkey?
Hollander: Trixie was my yoga teacher and I knew her from studying art together in school. I was always overcome by her bravery and mastery in drawing the community together. I believe artists have radical trusts in their own process — we just do things intuitively. One day [Trixie] just said you should come see Monkey and I perform. What I found was their bravery and commitment was inescapable. Their commitment to their art form was the radical trust I was seeking — their commitment to their act was unwavering.
KW: When did you begin filming and for how long?
Hollander: In 2006 we just decided to go for it and the first year or two we were only filming performances. I realized we needed to start filming life beyond the scenes to really flesh out the story. We filmed for about seven years and I believe we were able to capture the journey of them deciding to hone and cultivate their act beyond Baltimore and to travel the world.
KW: Many critics have raved about the film’s honesty and bravery. What is something it taught you?
Approximately a year and a half in filming, they went into circus school in New England. It quickly became a film much bigger than their lives in Baltimore and we had to follow them. They were performing every weekend to sustain the costs of life and circus school. I watched them make this commitment and experience financial uncertainty, regardless of what outer validation or the odds of success might look like, and it was exactly what was playing out in my personal life.
KW: How does a documentary capture a story differently than other art forms?
Hollander: I love the idea of the camera or the “collective space,” which can be a catalyst for conversation pieces. In this case, it was a tool to bear witness and I feel privileged to have witnessed their story.
KW: What does it mean for you to come to Key West?
Hollander: This is the first trip to Key West for my husband and I and we are beyond excited and thrilled. We have heard so much about the Key West community and artists — and the way Jeremy was able to create this event feels like a true pairing of independent film making. And this will be only the second time that Trixie and Monkey will be making an appearance before the film.
“Us, Naked: Trixie & Monkey” will show at the Tropic Cinema on Thursday, Oct. 1 and there are hints that Beatrix Burneston (Trixie Little) and Adam Krandle (The Evil Hate Monkey) will perform a taste of their comedic and acrobatic act which is at the heart of the documentary selected as one of 10 by the IFP Documentary Lab in 2011.