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Sole Sisters Inspects Hearts and Heels
by Stephen Becker 10 Feb 2012

A Dallas filmmaker hopes to answer a question that has flummoxed men – and even women – for ages: What is it about women and shoes? Cynthia Salzman Mondell’s heading to the source to find her answer.

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A Dallas filmmaker hopes to answer a question that has flummoxed men – and even women – for ages: What is it about women and shoes? KERA’s Stephen Becker reports Cynthia Salzman Mondell’s heading to the source to find her answer.

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When her mother was dying of cancer, Cynthia Salzman Mondell searched for something that might brighten her mother’s day.

“My sister and I found a pair of brand new red high heels in her closet and we brought them out,” Mondell says. “She was so sick and she just got a really big smile on her face. And it was the first time in weeks that she had really communicated with us.”

Her mom’s feelings for those shoes inspired Sole Sisters, a film project Mondell has been working on for more than a year.

So far she’s heard from women from all walks of life. An inmate talks about the shoes she can’t wait to wear once she’s free. A Chinese woman remembers having her feet bound as a young girl. And a senior holds onto a pair of heels that reminds her of dates with her husband who’s passed away.

The stories go far beyond the functionality of shoes.

To respect – and capture – their intimacy, Mondell developed the Shoe Confessional – a wooden box similar to those photo booths you see at the mall. Inside are two cameras. One records the women’s stories as the other projects a live image of the shoes the storyteller is wearing onto a monitor inside the booth. Mondell hopes the setup will allow the women to focus and relax.

The Shoe Confessional debuted during a Late Night event last month at the Dallas Museum of Art. The idea was to snag some of the hundreds of women visiting the blockbuster Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition and get them to tell their stories.

Many did. At times, the line was more than a dozen deep.

“When you’re wearing a good pair of shoes, your confidence goes up a thousand points,” says Natalie Beavers, a sophomore at Lake Highlands High School. During her visit to the museum as part of a French club field trip, she hit on what was maybe the night’s most prevalent theme. “Good shoes are like, bam, here we are, and we’re in power. It’s empowering.”

Natalie’s blue, purple and pink high-heeled boots can be read any number of ways. Her mother, Ninotchka, says it’s a generational thing.

“I wish I could wear hers – even if only in the house. I would never be caught dead in those outside. Not Mom appropriate.”

Still, mom wore leopard print lace-ups, suggesting that shoe boldness runs in the family.

If there’s a practical takeaway from the night, it might be Sophia Stavron’s story. Several other women told variations of it.

“People can find out a lot about me if they look down. Because a lot of how I feel – my mood when I dress – I start from the bottom up,” Stavron says. “Meaning, I’ll pick out what shoes I’m in the mood for and it will reveal how I’m feeling, and that’s how I dress.”

Mondell says that in addition to a documentary, she’s considering a book and maybe even a play. Judging by the number of women stepping into the Shoe Confessional, she shouldl have all the material she needs.

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