Following a central tenet of contemporary documentary making, first-time director Dain Percifield latched on to a unique character. Glendon Hyde, better known in some circles as the bravura drag queen Anna Conda, decided to run for supervisor of District 6 in 2010. Percifield’s perfectly titled one-hour doc, Running in Heels: The Glendon ‘Anna Conda’ Hyde Story, follows the campaign yet doesn’t milk the innate tension of an electoral race—a wise idea given the odds against a political novice and outsider pulling an upset. Percifield devotes equal time to showing us the man underneath the makeup, and it’s a pleasure to discover that Glendon/Anna is a person of gravitas, empathy and enormous resolve. Forget CGI-enhanced superheroes; Glendon/Anna is the most inspiring fighter to grace a screen this summer. Running in Heels: The Glendon “Anna Conda” Hyde Story received its world premiere in Frameline35, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, Sunday, June 19, at 11:00 am, at the Victoria Theatre. We interviewed Percifield by email.
SF360: What compelled you to get into filmmaking?
Dain Percifield: Although I've spent a lot of time in the edit room producing news segments as part of my PR background, I’d never considered filmmaking until Running in Heels. I did this because I really believe in what Anna/Glendon has to say as a strong, independent voice in S.F. politics and wanted to share his story. Yes, this is truly a grassroots film about a grassroots campaign. Much was learned just by doing it, and thinking about how to tell the story of one of San Francisco's most celebrated drag queens running for city supervisor.
SF360: How did you meet Anna? What was the conversation like when you sought her permission, and cooperation, to make the film?
Percifield: I met Anna one night after a Charlie Horse performance. I tend to be an insomniac, and studying the characters at a late-night drag show [at the Cinch] on Polk Street was fascinating to me. When I approached Anna [about] documenting her run for supervisor, she immediately said yes—she has this great philosophy to not say ’no’ to requests made of her—and was extremely cooperative throughout the eight-month shoot. Anna has always lived her life very openly and honestly. During filming she dropped her guard on many occasions, and opened up about the many challenges she was facing as a candidate, as a drag queen and as Glendon, which provides context as to why she’s such a fierce fighter for social change.
SF360: How did you set boundaries in order to maintain your distance and objectivity? Or was that not one of your goals?
Percifield: Yes, it was a goal and one I felt was important. I tried to have my assistant director, Carla Mancebo, conduct most of the in-depth interviews with Anna. They did not know one another prior and Carla would arrive at the shoots, ask the tough questions and leave immediately after—in an effort to maintain a distance. I tried to do the same by not asking too many questions behind the scenes or socializing with anyone in the cast. I think there was mutual respect as no one on the campaign team ever asked me what I thought of this or that or my opinion of how the campaign was going.
SF360: What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Percifield: I really struggled with what the final product would be. We have 20-plus hours of footage on what it takes to run for city supervisor and 20 hours of great drag performances and stories. But I didn’t want it to be C-SPAN and I didn’t want it to be a drag show with political messages. Trying to find that balance and focus on what motivates, inspires and makes Glendon such as passionate and informed candidate was challenging.
SF360: What was the major lesson you learned?
Percifield: If your subject moves a mile a minute, you need to be prepared to do the same, and make sure everything and everyone on the crew is ready to go!
SF360: What role do you see humor, and levity, playing in the film?
Percifield: This is a great question. I think Anna and I share the same sense of humor which, for me, was part of the joy in making this film. Without a good dose of humor, I don’t think it would be an accurate profile because Anna is always the first to laugh at herself. But both Anna and Glendon have relied on humor to get them through some incredibly tough times. I hope the film captures the peaks and valleys of the campaign in that way. My editor, Sophia Rivera, and I would be laughing out loud one moment and then have to tackle some pretty heartbreaking scenes. One thing her campaign team often commented on was that Glendon/Anna would make the volunteer work fun. There was always time to laugh or don a fabulous gown and wig, even when there were 1,000 signatures to gather or stacks of paperwork to be completed. In one scene Anna is wearing a blonde Afro wig and disco dress to protest the very serious Sit/Lie law. This unique approach, coupled with her shrewd wit and ability to connect with all types of people, not only helped attract people to what the problems are in the city but also ultimately helped her become recognized as a top candidate.
SF360: Frameline35 programmed your film with two shorts under the title ‘Only in San Francisco.’ I don’t think that’s as true as it once was. What’s your take?
Percifield: I completely agree. Although Glendon has been compared to Harvey Milk, apathy is universal as is activism. There's a line in the film where Anna says she finds other people's apathy very inspiring. Drag queens as entertainers have become mainstream but many younger audiences may not know that many drag queens have also been fierce activists. But Anna Conda isn’t just fighting for LGBT rights—what Anna/Glendon sets out to accomplish should happen in any city. In the film, Jonathan Simpson, mayor of Camden in London, states, ‘We desperately need more people like Anna Conda.’ Yes, it takes an extreme amount of perseverance and guts to throw yourself into the political arena, especially as a drag queen. However, when you have an individual who’s been the underdog all of his life, is fighting for the underserved or the small business owner and offering real solutions, that kind of spirit can bring positive change in any city. I have to believe and hope there are closeted activists like Anna just waiting to come out!
SF360: Will there be a Heels sequel?
Percifield: There might just be a sequel; we'll see. Right now I just want to share Glendon's story with as many audiences as possible, especially youth. While we were filming last year, there was that rash of teen suicides and bullying among LGBT youth, which led to the It Gets Better initiative. Although we didn't plan it this way, Running in Heels: The Glendon ‘Anna Conda’ Hyde Story is an in-depth profile of how much better it can get. Whether you're dressing up as a lady in kindergarten or finding yourself being bullied on the campaign trail at 43, never lose sight of your dreams, but more importantly, don't give up or give in. If one queer youth out there finds strength and motivation from Glendon's story, then we've done our job.
With riveting characters, cascading revelations and momentous breakthroughs, Epstein and Friedman’s work paved the way for contemporary documentary practice.
Accompanied by a program of solar system shorts, Travis Wilkerson’s 2003 look at ruthless union-busting and the rise and fall of Butte, Montana, offers eerie resonance.
Saraf and Light's work is marked by an unwavering appreciation for underdogs and outsiders.
A film on Cherokee chief Wilma Mankiller bucks biopic formula and concentrates on a pivotal moment in the leader's life.
Goldman Prize-winning environmentalists' work highlighted in short-form pieces by Parrinello, Antonelli and Dusenbery.
Mill Valley amps up the star wattage in its annual mix of local, international titles.
An East Bay filmmaker takes another look at U.S. financial woes with 'Heist,' which world premieres at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
John Turturro shares his passion for the Neapolitan songbook.