Interview: ‘High Shine’ Director Christina Court

CHICAGO – High Shine: 15 Years of International Ms Bootblack, the new documentary on women bootblacks and the IMsBB contest, came from the heart and mind of Great Lakes leather community member. Director Christina Court took time out of what has been a very busy schedule since High Shine‘s premiere to talk with the Great Lakes Den.

Great Lakes Den: What inspired you to make the film?

Christina Court: The inspiration to make High Shine: 15 Years of International Ms Bootblack is less about a “what” that inspired me than the people “who” inspired me…or, at the least, sweet talked me into taking on the production and director aspects of the film project.

The first Bootblack to ever do my boots was IMsBB 2009 pony. She was one of the resident Bootblacks at the Chicago pansexual Leather club, the LRA. She was the first to show me what a strong hands and some Huberd’s can do to a boot and to one’s spirit. Later, when we spent some more social time together she taught me tricks about cigar prep, service and play.

The second Bootblack to do my boots was IMsBB 2010 Jayson DaBoi; she did my Chicago winter salt-stained boots at SWLC. I don’t think any of the Bootblacks in the lounge had anticipated salt stains on boots, especially when it was 70 degrees outside at night in Phoenix that weekend! But Jayson was determined to make sure the salt stains disappeared, and, to make sure that I returned back to Chicago with well-loved boots, she dashed out of the Bootblack lounge to locate the hotel kitchen and beg for some vinegar…and scored some, much to my joy! While Jayson cared for my boots, she talked about how she spends her entire Leather event weekend in the lounge, working everyone’s leathers…and, with her passion, she filled my heart in way I’d never quite experienced before, at least, not from someone who didn’t know me from Jane.

In 2011, I’d helped then- IMsL owner Glenda Rider with the final storyboarding for the Kink Academy documentary short, Sisterhood of the Sash: 25 Years of International Ms Leather. I was organized and thorough, and I loved listening to the many hours of oral history Kink Academy gathered as part of the IMsL 25th Anniversary Celebration, In 2012, Glenda mentioned to me how the IMsBBs wanted a film much like Sisterhood of the Sash for their 15th anniversary in 2013. (I later learned that this was part of a very grand IMsBB XV Celebration proposed by L.E. LeGirl and advocated by Jayson and other IMsBBs). I was uncertain of my skills and wavered; I helped Glenda solicit other film companies and videographers, but folks were either unavailable or what appeared to be “too expensive” for anything IMsL or the Leatherwoman community might be able to raise in a one-year period…I was later to learn that the quotes we received were not just ballpark, but given a community service type of discount—live and learn (and pay down the max-ed out credit cards).

So, one can guess what happened when I attended GLLA (Great Lakes Leather Alliance) in 2012 and both IMsBB 2009 pony and IMsBB 2010 Jayson were in attendance and know that I have a love of Leather history and a knack for storyboarding.

I ended up having a late-night screening of Sisterhood of the Sash at GLLA, and, after everyone left the auditorium, pony came back in and explained to me how I “needed” to make this film and help out the “Bubbas” (slang for Bootblacks). Because she popped my Bootblack cherry and had shown me (via example) how a femme could also be a beautiful piggy, I listened closely and allowed a little of my baptized-Catholic nature settle in…but I was not expecting a one-two IMsBB punch!

After chatting with pony, I went out to the Great Lakes Bootblacks’ infamous “Ash Bash” party, wherein I found myself smoking one of the best cigars I’d ever had (a dual-wrapper Gloria Cubana) with Jayson DaBoi until 4am. Anyone who’s spent time with Jayson knows that she is, as ICBB 2006 Henry James would say, an amazing “Bootblack evangelist.” I went to bed that morning at 4am and cried myself to sleep knowing that I’d end up agreeing to making the film.

So, while L.E. LeGirl prosed the film and Glenda Rider asked me to make the film, I will forever “blame” pony and Jayson DaBoi for, um, “inspiring” me to take on the film project.

GLD: Had you had ever thought about making a film before this?

Christina: I joined the Sisterhood of the Sash team very late in the production process, in fact, it was after Graydancer (the film’s editor) submitted a rough cut to Glenda that I began to participate. That film exclusively provided a profile of the IMsLs during the IMsL 2011 Weekend, and I remember lamenting the fact that we didn’t have the time, money or resources to pull from historic images and footage to round out the narrative. And at that time, not knowing that there was about to be a film about the IMsBB proposed, I decided that I wanted to help make sure that future documentaries about the IMsL contained historic materials.

Prior to this, though, film was not really on my radar. I mean, like most Leatherfolk, I’d assisted with step aside slide shows, but not much more. However, I also have a Master’s in English, and I’ve learned that my writing degrees (my bachelor’s degree is in rhetoric) contributed to my filmmaking style and editing skills. I’ve written since I was a child, and, since childhood, I’ve also always felt “limited” by traditional narrative constructs—until I found film and filmmaking, I’d thought that my issues with writing were due to my writing skills, not that I was writing for the wrong medium. When I worked on Sisterhood of the Sash, something inside of me actually “clicked:” I finally realized that my storytelling “needed” a visual narrative to accompany my writing. And I was forever changed.

Because I wanted to make sure that, indeed, when the time came for me to make an edit of what was originally called “the IMsBB film” I was ready to work hard, I spent more than a year volunteering to make film shorts for LA&M for the LA&M Leather Preservation & Conservation Project, which is spearheaded by IMsBB 1999 Leslie Anderson. I also took on working as co-producer, videographer and film editor for Fireside Chats, an interview series hosted by Douglas O’Keeffe. In addition, Glenda had offered me a stipend for my fundraising efforts for the film project and, rather than take the stipend as cash, I decided to turn the offer into a professional development opportunity, wherein I used the stipend funding to pay for two five-week workshops on documentary development and Final Cut Pro 7 vs. X (The “X” version had just been released within the industry and immediately became one of the industry “standards” by Glenda and my consultants’ thoughts.) As a result of these efforts and a few other volunteer opportunities I took on within the Leather community, I quickly found myself being asked to join the IML video production team as an assistant…and, through these trial, errors, a heap of reading and some really great mentorship, when the time came for me to make the rough cut of the “High Shine” film, I was more than ready. Some may see my freshman project as a “baptism by fire,” but I know that, when I said “yes” to the film, I then spent 30+ hours every week of my non-work week from late 2012 until mid-2014 to learn how to make movies…and to fall in love with the Leather documentary.

GLD: How much has your interest in the history of the leather community influenced how you made the film and why you made it?

Christina: Because I’ve only engaged in documentarian-style films, I find that history and documentary go hand-in-hand. I get a certain joy knowing that there are folks who watch my films who absolutely hate to read or to spend time researching/digging for that one historic gem within 2000 pictures or pages of materials. I am that femme Leatherman who used to teach research writing and methods to community college students because I love the thrill of the intellectual “hunt.” I am willing to spend nearly 14 hours searching through stacks of printed photographs to try and locate two or three images that illustrate a detail I shall bring to light within a documentary or film project, and I will be enthralled the entire time. My work might be tedious and hard on the body, but, if it makes folks pay attention to their history, then I’ve done my job…and I am honored to be the one who give others the gift of knowledge.

Over the years, I’ve learned that the Leather, kink and BDSM communities enjoy visual arts over the written word. Many folks will buy books by our community’s members, but they may not read them (or read them in their entirety). And there is no judgment in that…it’s just knowing the “tastes” of the community. Thus, because I am that research nerd and bibliophile, I am more than happy to give my brothers and sisters a chance to sit back at the theater or in front of their computer with their bourbon or beer and just “learn.” In essence, I simply want folks to learn more about our people and spaces so we don’t forget our roots and so we can see how the past directly affects our present and is already affecting our future.

I know many do not consider education “sexy” and, as a result, some consider what I do to be “boring,” but I also know that the service I provide to the community is “important.” And I’m okay with that…because, if no one has the desire or drive to share these things with the community, we are doomed to run in circles merely chasing our tail (rather than getting to work on larger, contemporary social issues that need our more immediate attention).

GLD: How difficult was it to get people to participate?

Christina: This is a hard question to answer. The IMsBBs jumped on board without much hesitancy, as did what ended up being all three Generations of IMsL owners who’d been involved in the IMsBB contests (Amy Marie Meek, Glenda Rider, and Pat Baillie/Sharrin Spector). I had people volunteering to conduct the interviews and sit for the IMsBB’s bootblacking sessions…more than I could actually accept. Just about everyone whom I wrote to with any sort of request agreed to assisting me or simply gave me something on my “dream list” of images or words. So many people in the Leather community have been touched by at least one Bootblack that there was a hunger to help tell the tale that, at one point, I feared that the film was going to turn into a Ken Burns style, six part documentary! In my mind, I consider this to be a “good” problem.

Yet, I will also be honest about two aspects of the participation that I didn’t expect, and these aspects have personally affected me and my Leather journey.

For one, I have been judged by many individuals for having a predominantly (cis-) male film crew (four males, two females) during the IMsL 2013 Weekend and for having a male, Mike Skiff (Kink Crusaders and Folsom Forever) serve as my Director of Photography. The males on my film crew were all Leathermen with Leather film experience—one of whom was Graylin Thorton, filmmaker and International Mr. Drummer 1993. The fact is that Glenda and I reached out to at least three female-identified sex-positive filmmakers for assistance at various levels of filmmaking, and we were either rejected or their bid exceeded anything we knew we could afford without a type of fundraising system that we knew we couldn’t get in place within a one-year time frame. But the folks on the film’s crew were willing to help for nothing more than the costs of transportation, lodging and/or film equipment rentals. And they are all damn good at their jobs/with providing viewers an eye on things.

I’ve also been judged for having so many male voices in the film. There are five IMBBs in the documentary (Jim Deuder, Bootdog, Nick Elliot, and, in a brief appearances, Sammy and Scout). Henry James, ICBB 2006 appears in the film, and Mr. Chuck Renslow agreed to interview with me as well. Their portions of the IMsBB story are also very vital to the narrative, yet my choice to have “so many men” in the film has proven to be problematic to some who’ve viewed the film. Because most whom I’ve asked to participate have heartily agreed to share their stories and their roles within the IMsBB story—and not all of those individuals are female- or woman- identified, I’ve been subjected to scorn, asked if I am a feminist, and have been flat-out accused of being one who’s “succumbed to the patriarchy.” All I know is that, as a documentarian who seeks to record the history as accurately as she can (based on records, documents/periodicals, film footage, and oral histories), I’ve sought to try and make sure that the story was accurate. In the end, I’ve been wholly honored by everyone who participated, helped me, educated me, showed me things, verified “missing pieces,” and stood up to help make the film actually occur.  Thus, in the end, while I had an amazing amount of people who’d participated in the IMsBB Contest’s history agree to participate and lend their voice to the narrative, my choice to include all those voices hasn’t been well received by everyone. Ultimately, it is my hope that, by including all voices that are important to the history of the IMsBB contest and the contest’s titleholders, the film shows viewers that one of the beautiful things about Bootblacks is how they celebrate diversity and Unity…and, through that vision or mindset or mission, Bootblacks often seek nothing more than to help others feel strong and succeed. While the documentary is about IMsBB history, the part of that history also provides lessons about “creating space” and the power of solidarity that we all can learn from, Leather or otherwise.

GLD: What have some of the reactions been, both at CineKink and from others who have seen the finished product?

Christina: Many of those involved in the project have admitted to crying during the film, and many have said that the film proves to be very educational, especially with regard to some of the obstacles that female- identified individuals in Leather still face and seek to transcend/seek to remedy for upcoming generations. Others have said that the film has simply made them proud of being Leather. In all, it’s been very heartwarming.

GLD: What are your next steps with High Shine?

Christina: I am about to fine tune a few “short deleted scenes” and release them to the public domain, so stay tuned! Because I am truly a one-woman team, I am going as fast as a can, especially as IML begins to rise on the horizon! (I’m the video production assistant for IML, and I started helping the video producer with the 2015 contest in late February.)

Beyond that, though, I want to bring High Shine to as many kinky and LGBTQA film festivals as I can afford and will have me. While I know that the Leather community is eager to view the film and I am bringing it to several events over the next year, I also want to make sure that the film doesn’t circulate exclusively within Leather circles—I want people unfamiliar with our culture to get a different glimpse of Leather and begin to understand that some of “those Leather folk” who always seem to be placed at the end of the Pride parades are often lifelong activists who also engage in some very intimate rituals. In essence, by trying to show the film in a variety of film festivals, I hope to show people that Leatherfolk are more than the stereotypes often bandied about in media.

GLD: Do you have ideas for your next film? And can you share any of them?

Christina: I continue to work on various film projects for LA&M, including editing a backlog of older Fireside Chats, which have been conducted by Douglas O’Keeffe. Currently, there are several shorter projects I need to finish editing before moving forward and onto something new. I must also financially recover from making the High Shine film, especially since more than half of the money it took to make the film came out of my pocket or the pocket’s of my partner and bio-family. Once I move past these obstacles, I’ll begin to prepare for the next larger-scale Leather documentary. I have a few “dream topics” in mind, but none I’m willing to share as of yet!

GLD: What are some of your other plans?

Christina: Currently, I am working toward transitioning my professional career more toward film editing… I realized that I’ve never enjoyed something as much as editing, and I want to see what I can do with those skills (and see if I can carve a living out of them). As I work on the IML video production, I’m sharpening my skills, and I’m also self teaching myself video animation. I’m also a new member of the LA&M Board of Directors, so I’m looking forward to digging in and helping to save our community’s history in a whole new set of ways.

Beyond these things, I’m trying to re-learn what “leisure” feels like and looks like: I’ve been burning so hard (a full time job combined with a 30-hour/week devotion to the project for more than two years now) that I’ve kind of forgotten what it’s like watch a film without taking notes or read a book without a highlighter in my hand or what a full night’s sleep feels like. I am really looking forward to rediscovering these arts.