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Filmmaker Mark Birnbaum Remembers Screenwriter Gretchen Dyer


by Anne Bothwell 23 Jun 2009

At a memorial service last week,  filmmaker Mark Birnbaum remembered Gretchen Dyer’s work as a screenwriter. I asked him if we could share it and he graciously agreed. He notes that others commented on her advocacy (She co-founded the TEAfund – Texas Equal Access) and her recent play, One in Three: “Just wouldn’t want anyone […]

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At a memorial service last week,  filmmaker Mark Birnbaum remembered Gretchen Dyer’s work as a screenwriter. I asked him if we could share it and he graciously agreed. He notes that others commented on her advocacy (She co-founded the TEAfund – Texas Equal Access) and her recent play, One in Three: “Just wouldn’t want anyone to think my remarks in any way summarize the life of this remarkable woman.” Late Bloomers screens tonight at 7 at the Angelika. Donations to the TEA fund will be accepted.

I have no chops for fiction. I tried it once or twice, got hung up on character names. I’m a non-fiction storyteller. So I’m more or less in awe of writers who create stories out of whole cloth, who bring life to characters and show us a world we’d never have known otherwise.

Like naked basketball. Lesbian naked basketball. That’s what everybody was talking about.

It was the mid-90’s. Dallas’ Third Coast moniker was beginning to wear a little thin. Lots of independent features had been made here, some of them pretty good, but many were just awful.

And then a bunch of my friends were working on this film called Late Bloomers.

Gretch wrote it, Julia directed it, Steven produced it.

And if naked lesbian basketball weren’t odd enough. I was introduced to a really odd band from Denton. And I just loved it. I loved the story. The New York Times called it an old fashioned love story. What’s more old-fashioned than playing Hava Nagila at a wedding, even if it’s for two brides? Gretchen was saying that that it’s never too late to follow your heart. The gay press thought it wasn’t erotic or sophisticated enough. Distributors thought the two leads weren’t pretty enough. I was impressed with the way it was shot by Bill Schwarz. I thought it was the best independent feature film ever made in Dallas. Still do.

They were joined at the hip, Gretchen and Julia. They started The Potlatch, which you may know as a ceremonial exchange of gifts observed by Pacific Coast Native Americans. But here they brought writers and actors and filmmakers together to exchange their gifts. They organized table reads of new screenplays. Writers heard their lines read out loud for the first time in front of an audience. The atmosphere at those evenings was electric. You could feel the momentum of the independent film movement. They brought a community together, they changed the culture of Dallas. That community has hung together in some form or fashion ever since and last month it won from the Texas Legislature three bills establishing an incentive program that finally puts us on an equal footing with neighboring states to draw film production back to Texas. Gretchen helped kick that into gear.

Gretch and Julia may have been joined at the hip but they were far from identical. Gretchen was forthright and direct, Julia maybe more tranquilo, sympathetic. It took lots of guts and heart to make the film they wanted to make. Theirs was a family act. Their careers might have taken different turns individually, but they chose to stay together. They and their brother fought and worked and created together, and it was an inspiration for those of us who got to watch.

And we got to watch naked basketball. I know I keep coming back to that but really, have you ever seen it anywhere else?

Bart Weiss has organized a screening of Late Bloomers, from the original 35mm print, next Tuesday at 7pm at the Angelika. I’m going to go and watch naked basketball, and I’ll remember Gretch, remember her tireless energy, her determination in the face of the awful odds stacked against her for the last 20 years. And I’ll cry at the wedding scene like I cried when she married Steve in that dress. Her dress. Not Steve’s dress.

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  • Lou Michaels

    Mark,
    I love this..really love this. Thank you ~
    Lou

  • Rich A.

    Thank You Mark Birnbaum for sharing these interesting thoughts.