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Documentary about Miss Continental pageant set to debut in Chicago
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-01-21

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The hotly anticipated Miss Continental-focused documentary, The Queens, has been years in the making for former FOX Chicago special projects reporter Mark Saxenmeyer and his non-profit production company, The Reporters Inc. Saxenmeyer currently resides in his hometown of Minneapolis with his partner of 13 years, Adam Gower.

Chicago audiences will be the first to view the documentary at the Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club on Thursday, Jan. 25, at 6:30 p.m. Guests will be treated to a salad, entree and martini, shown the film, participate in a Q&A afterward and be entertained live by performers who appear in the film.

Saxenmeyer explained that the genesis of this film started when he arrived in Chicago in 1994 and saw his first show at The Baton.

"A co-worker suggested we head over to The Baton after work and check out a show," said Saxenmeyer. "I remember saying something along the lines of 'I do not really like drag shows.' This new friend explained, 'Oh no, this is not drag. These are female impersonators, most of whom live their lives as women when they are not on stage.'

"I was intrigued, and then I was immediately mesmerized once I watched an entire show at the club. There was an elegance and a mystique about the performers at The Baton that I had never seen anywhere else and, to this today, have still never seen anywhere else."

Over the years, Saxenmeyer ( who won 30 regional Emmy awards during his time with FOX Chicago ), reported and produced stories about The Baton and some of its performers but the idea of a documentary came after he left the station in early 2011.

At first, Saxenmeyer wanted to sell the inner workings of the club as a reality show and he pitched it to half a dozen TV networks—but none agreed to commission it to series. In the end, he decided reality TV was not for him, so he pivoted to a documentary format, and that is how The Queens came to fruition.

"All my years living and working in Chicago, I had never been to a Miss Continental pageant," said Saxenmeyer. "I had heard of it, but it just did not interest me because the Miss America and Miss Universe pageants did not really interest me either. After talking with Jim Flint ( who opened The Baton in 1969 and created Miss Continental in 1980 ), I realized that it would be insufficient to chronicle The Baton ( where many of the regular entertainers were former Miss Continental winners ) without delving into the spectacle of Miss Continental."

During filming, Saxenmeyer explained that he developed an appreciation of the time, energy and money the contestants put into winning the title. While filming the pageant, Saxenmeyer noted that one of The Reporters Inc.'s cinematographers said Miss Continental should be the focus of the project.

"When people ask me what The Queens is about I say it is a revealing and truly fascinating look at the transgender subculture of competitive female impersonation and the personal lives of The Baton performers and those competing for the Miss Continental crown," said Saxenmeyer. "I think that it will appeal to everyone, not just the LGBT community. Each will take something different from it but hopefully all audiences will find it both entertaining and enlightening. Miss Continental is not something most people know about, or have even heard about. For the entertainers vying for this crown it is truly the dream of a lifetime. Their stories are both uplifting and, at times, heartbreaking."

"I absolutely love what I do when it comes to performing and competing," said contestant Tiffany T. Hunter. "So, I am more than honored and grateful to have this small portion of my life forever captured. More importantly, I am excited for people to get a glimpse into our lives. We all have passions, dreams and goals no matter how obscure they may seem. The trailers have me wanting to see it so badly, I can't hardly wait."

"Competitions create and groom the best you," said contestant Sunny Dee-Lite. "Pageants bring out the best and the worst in you. Your passion during pageants will awaken a side of you that most will never understand. But in the end it is a phenomenal journey. I am so excited for people to see this documentary."

"This was a very gratifying experience knowing that someone was willing to shine a light on the art of what we do in female impersonation," said contestant Alexis Gabrielle Sherrington. "I love this platform that I have and was proud to be a part of this documentary."

"To be a part of The Miss Continental system has been a real blessing," said contestant Naysha Lopez. "Sharing the Continental stage with the most elite entertainers of female impersonation is a win in itself and now to be a part of a behind the scenes journey for the crown in this documentary is a true gift."

"I am glad that Miss Continental is finally being represented on film," said former Miss Continental winner Mimi Marks. "It is one of the longest running pageants in the U.S. that includes transgender women and I am so happy to be a part of this elite group of winners and contestants."

"Obviously, if not for Jim Flint there would be no Baton or Continental," said Saxenmeyer. "He sat for several interviews with us and provided us access to the videos of every single Miss Continental pageant. Jim provided an oral history about the struggles and setbacks he has experienced keeping The Baton alive, vibrant and relevant, and how trying to bring Miss Continental to mainstream attention has eluded him. He is a Chicago icon and legend, all by himself."

Saxenmeyer believes fans of shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and movies like Paris Is Burning will also enjoy The Queens.

"Even if you do not like beauty pageants, this is a pageant like none other," said Saxenmeyer, who added that the first three minutes can be previewed at https://vimeo.com/249870186.

"We will also be premiering a brand new, never-before-seen trailer for our documentary The Innocent Convicts [TheReporters.org/project/innocentconvicts&; about wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform at the Chicago event," he said.

For more information and to watch the trailers, visit www.thereporters.org/project/the-queens/ .

"I promise it will be a night you will not forget." said Saxenmeyer.

Tax-deductible tickets for the Jan. 25 event are $100 each; visit givemn.org/project/the-queens-chicago-premiere5a0b47dbbce80 .

For more information and to watch the trailers, visit www.thereporters.org/project/the-queens/ .


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