THE SHOW MUST GO ON: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF THE FLYING WALLENDAS
The Show Must Go On
Photo Courtesy: Leslie Schwartz
“Being on the wire is living— everything else is just waiting,” said Karl Wallenda and Director Paula Froehle couldn’t agree more. She learned this while filming The Show Must Go On: An Intimate Portrait of the Flying Wallendas.
Froehle, 51, has been a filmmaker for the past 30 years. Her love of movies began as a child going to the drive-in, sitting outside under the stars, and watching films like Old Yeller with her family. She fostered that love of movies by studying at the School of the Art Institute and going on to create over 12 films and 20 media projects, as well as started a film school in Chicago.
As Director of The Show Must Go On, she scheduled vacations around the Wallenda’s schedule— dragging her children along while she shot. Froehle pulled in friends, family, anyone who’d help out to put forth an intimate story of circus life in a trailer, in the flurry of the backstage and in the intensity of the performances. What she unearthed was the tightness of a community, and the true bond of the family unit.
YD: Tell us a little about The Show Must Go On: An Intimate Portrait of the Flying Wallendas. What inspired you to create the film?
PF: “I ran away with the circus at the age of 40. Or rather, I was carried away by it – from the moment I met The Flying Wallendas in 2004. Not because I dreamed of walking the highwire, or of performing in front of a crowd. Rather, I had an epiphany when I met them, casting for a short film about a boy who lives on a tightrope.
“I remembered the Wallendas from my childhood – their televised skywalks, Karl’s walk across Snake River Canyon, their “daredevil” death-defying behavior. I thought this was who I would be meeting when we were first introduced. What I found was the polar opposite – I was struck by how the people they were flew in the face of the stereotype of circus performers – that in this age of “family values” these “vagabonds”, these “gypsies” demonstrated a tighter family unit than any I’d ever experienced. I was drawn to their sense of respect for their heritage, of their desire to carry on tradition through eight generations. I was struck by the fact that they rely on each other – literally – for their lives. I found an openness and a trust that I’d rarely experienced, even in my own family. I felt compelled to follow them, and to tell their story.”
YD: Can you tell us about the style of the film? And what challenges did you face putting it together?
PF: “The documentary film follows the Wallendas over an eight-year period. The film afforded me the opportunity to share the story of a family struggling with all the same issues any family struggles with— making ends meet, attempting to raise strong, healthy, independent children who also understand – and embrace – the family business; conflict, illness, birth, and death— and figure out how to stay together — how to thrive. And how to put some of it aside each time they climb the tower and rely on each other for their lives.
“Keeping the momentum going over such a long period of time was one of the many challenges. Shooting performers on a highwire presented its own challenges too. But all of my production challenges were nothing compared to the challenges the family faced the season I showcase in the film— one of the performers develops stage fright. THAT was challenging!”
YD: Do you feel that as a director, plot is more important than characters, or vice versa?
PF: “That’s a tough one. I think strong characters drive interesting plots, especially in documentaries. If you have an interesting personality, interesting things are bound to present themselves and drama unfolds in front of you. Your job as a documentary director is to be there to capture that drama when its happening.”
YD: Can you tell us a little about filmmakers or movements that have influenced your work?
PF: “Working in the documentary field, I’m inspired by and strive for the level of great storytelling set by such notables as the Maysles, Barbara Kopple, Werner Herzog, Liz Garbus, many others. I have also been influenced by narrative directors like Alejandro Innaritu, Chris Marker, and Martin Scorsese. Great storytelling is great storytelling regardless of genre.”
YD: This is a special year for the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival in that it’s celebrating 10 years. How exciting is it for you to join this year’s event?
PF: “Festivals like the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival are vital to keeping great filmmaking alive, by bringing the diversity of stories to audiences who love film. It’s such an honor to be invited to share this film with this community. The Wallendas have such an incredible legacy and Florida has been their home for many generations. So, to present their story to a Florida audience, one that honors and appreciates them and is eager to hear their story, is just a joy as a filmmaker.”
– The Fort Myers Beach Film Festival will take place April 20 – 24 with screenings at the Beach Theatre, located at 6425 Estero Boulevard. For more information, film schedules or tickets, visit www.FMBFilmFest.com.