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NUNN ON ONE, REELING The Queens film holds court at Reeling
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2018-09-19

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The Queens will be coming to Reeling Film Festival this year in a new film about the Miss Continental Pageant.

Filmmaker Mark Saxenmeyer takes viewers behind the scenes as a camera crew documents the trials and tribulations of several people competing for the crown in the pageant's 2011 edition. Among those personalities featured is Baton owner Jim Flint, whose legendary Chicago club figures prominently in the film. Flint created the pageant in 1980.

Saxenmeyer is executive director of The Reporters Inc., the company that produced The Queens. The Emmy Award winner is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and has worked with ABC, Fox and CBS. His previous documentaries include The Rites of Passage and Experiment: Gay and Straight, with more docs currently in the works.

Windy City Times: Did you think of other names for this documentary besides The Queens?

Mark Saxenmeyer: I guess Beauty Queens, but I wanted it to have the name "queen" from gay people calling each other that, but in a positive way. It was originally going to be just on The Baton, because I loved it. I had never been to a Miss Continental pageant. In 2011, I wanted to do something at The Baton as a reality show. We shot a sizzle reel, but everyone I sent it to wanted to make ridiculous changes. They wanted to bring in a younger, hotter stand in and we were not having that. They also wanted more drama.

We decided to convert into a documentary and make it more authentic. There was enough drama in the documentary to support an hour and a half.

WCT: Why not make a documentary about Jim Flint?

MS: That would be different. In a sense it is, with it being about The Baton and Miss Continental, both of which he created. He's a major player, but we focus on performers, four from The Baton and four from Miss Continental. Maybe [Windy City Times Publisher] Tracy Baim's book Jim Flint: The Boy from Peoria could be turned into a movie.

WCT: What are your thoughts on his statement in The Queens: "I'm not advertising sex changes?"

MS: That's the controversial part of it. There are a lot of transgender individuals and activists that take great umbrage to some of the rules that are in play at The Baton and Miss Continental. They feel they are archaic, regressive and problematic—that the whole notion of how one identifies as transgender can't be decided by a cis gender individual who runs a beauty pageant.

I am not making any judgment in this film. I am just presenting this subculture of transgender life and bringing it to light. It is a world that many people know nothing about. Most straight people don't know this world existed.

WCT: What did you learn from Miss Continental?

MS: I literally watched every pageant. … I feel like I am a Miss Continental expert now. I know who was in each one, how many times, how close they got and the tragedy behind some of the stories. It is really fascinating. I was attracted to going behind the scenes.

It's amazing to me that someone will spend so much time and money to win a crown that most people have never heard of. Then I realized we all have different goals and dreams. When I was younger it was [my goal] to win an Emmy and that is something I will never forget because Shirley Temple Black handed it to me.

WCT: What do you want audiences to get out of The Queens?

MS: Hopefully, because you are a human being, you are drawn to the winner experiencing their dreams coming true.

WCT: There is the other side too, for the people that don't win.

MS: It is heartbreaking. When they announce the top 12, they kick everyone out into the alley. They go from the glory of being onstage to being escorted out the backdoor. Talk about a dichotomy of emotions!

WCT: Why wasn't [first Miss Continental titleholder] Chili Pepper in the documentary?

MS: She didn't want to participate. She didn't sign the waiver. With The Baton and Miss Continental, she is the iconic figure. I tried to tell her how beneficial it would be, but in the end what could I do? You can see on the parade float and in rehearsal she is not there. Jim said it would be hard to shoot around her, so to not come.

WCT: What are your thoughts on [Baton regular] Ginger Grant passing away?

MS: Ginger was the hilarious heart and soul of The Baton for decades. Her interactions with the audience calmed the uncomfortable, quieted the hecklers and made everyone feel part of the party. Her transformation from Harry Hodges to Ginger Grant every night was nothing short of brilliant artistry.

WCT: You covered a lot of material, including people stealing items backstage.

MS: In the interviews, they told me of sabotage and things going missing. Sure enough. when we were there, a woman lost her bag and I don't think it was ever found.

WCT: So you will be at the screening at Reeling?

MS: Yes.

WCT: Anyone else?

MS: I know Mimi Marks is coming. This will be the first time she has seen the film. Naysha Lopez is coming, but she has seen it before. She loves it.

Jim hasn't seen the movie and I don't know why.

The Queens shows the warts and all. It shows the tragedies and backstage stuff. There is a dark side, so not necessarily something to play on a loop at The Baton. It is ultimately a celebration of the art form and what they do.

Visit ReelingFilmFestival.org for information on tickets with The Queens screening at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., on Monday, Sept. 24, at 9 p.m. Saxenmeyer later told Windy City Times that he is adding an epilogue noting the September 2018 passing of performer Ginger Grant.


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