February 5, 2023

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Director Jordan West Talks Lady Bunny-Starring ‘Playland,’ A Bold Tribute to Boston’s Queer Scene

3 min read

Having its world premiere at the Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam, Jorden West’s directorial debut “Playland” is an interdisciplinary film about the establishment of Boston’s oldest gay bar, the title. “I was volunteering at an MIT event, like an archive hackathon, and I learned about People Before the Highway, which was a grassroots movement against urban renewal and building a highway in the middle of Boston, and they were successful,” West says of how they came across Bones for the first film. came “I think it’s a story of what happens when government intervention is too successful in a marginalized subculture to wipe it out. So I got quite emotional, and that’s what initially led me to the archives to dig into the history project.”

Commenting on the film’s juxtaposition-based format, West says they were “interested in something polyphonic. Following a single protagonist through an overarching conflict doesn’t really apply to this reality. I thought a lot about Emily Dickinson’s line, ‘Tell all the truth but tell it diagonally.’ ,’ concerns what is real or what is not real in terms of who is saved and who is not.

“Playland” (courtesy of IFFR)

The film’s eclectic cast includes Daniel Cooper (“Pose”), and iconic drag queen Lady Bunny. “I think we had the opportunity to cast a pretty wide net because we weren’t looking for actors. We were looking for the odd talent. It was a very interdisciplinary casting method. Miranda is a dancer, and Jose is really into the ballroom scene. And Bunny is, of course, a very prominent figure in the history of the moving image and in contemporary art.”

“What’s really wild is that I don’t really think about it,” West said, when asked what they thought about how Lady Bunny would draw attention to their film. “I was really excited to work with this icon. And, you know, he shared with me that he grew up doing theater. So that was the most exciting part for me, working with an experienced performer and taking on the challenge and having to adapt and push myself to keep up with Bunny. That was something that really excited me as a director. I am, of course, very excited about people who would otherwise not have gone to see a film like this.”

Blending music, dance, archival footage, opera and more, “Playland” is a sensory experience that benefits greatly from innovative work in costume and production design. Edwin Mohney, a costume designer who designed Beyonce and Mary J. Working with the likes of Blige, West is the first name associated with the project. “Seeing Derek Jarman’s work, Sally loving Potter and being drawn to Peter Greenaway, [I know that] Clothes say a lot. Also, the satirical elements of what’s in queer culture was really vital to the film, and it was very important to me to capture that kind of subculture through clothing. What Edwin does really, really well is making things that stand the test of time and are still culturally relevant.”

Georden West (courtesy of Georden West)

Despite struggling with a tight production schedule (the film was shot in a quick eight days), and a long-winded editing process (it was edited in a less-quick eight months), West says the biggest hurdles they faced with “Playland” were those here. No longer want to do right by them. And those who can still remember a time erased, especially as they enter their twilight years.”

It’s clear how much West puts into faithfully capturing a community that is often marginalized. Queerness is also at the center of the director’s potential next project — filmmaker and “Playland” producer Russell Schaeffer has already optioned the rights to Sassafras Lower’s “Lost Boi,” billed as a “queer punk reimagining of the classic Peter Pan story.” Another potential project on the horizon is a film based on the history of Trinidad, Colorado, a city described by West as the “transgender capital of the world until the end of the 20th century”. Curiosity is well-lived: “I don’t think I’m done with Boston. There’s a lot.”

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