Bonnie Blue Edwards has done a lot of things in her 25 years. If her plans for the next stage of her life come to fruition, she’ll be known as director of a documentary about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) individuals in Alabama.
Born in Florida but raised in Alabama, Edwards is a New York City resident who has been developing her documentary project for about six months. She was in the Birmingham area the last week to film a promo for crowd funding and footage for investors.
By the end of the month, Edwards’ project, Out in Alabama, will be on the Kickstarter crowd funding site in search of $25,000 in funding. She says the total budget for the film is about $150,000, including funds from private investors, institutions and organizations such as the Sundance Film Institute. Since this is Edwards’ first time as a director, investors need to see footage of what she plans to do before committing to the project.
“It’s more than a documentary. It’s a conversation starter,” Edwards says.
The idea for Out in Alabama began when she was considering going to graduate school. She learned that LGBT individuals are being accepted by many small communities in Alabama, where they are part of the arts scene. When she began talking about that in New York, she got surprised responses.
After attending several schools in the Shelby County system, she attended Pelham High School. She says she didn’t always fit in, partly because she was the new kid and partly because of her personality. “I was friends with the goth kids, with the gay kids,” she says.
She left Pelham High for a home schooling group that allowed her to dual enroll at the University of Montevallo and graduate early. She later transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she majored in international business.
Edwards actually did most of her studies at the University of Washington in Seattle through a national exchange student program that allows students to attend classes in other states without paying out-of-state tuition.
Because of her friendships with gays and interest in LGBT issues, Edwards says people often ask her about her sexual orientation. “I’m straight,” she says.
She was just 20 when she graduated from college in 2009. She held several jobs, including teaching English in Italy for seven months, while she tried to decide her next steps.
Edwards took a job at Whole Foods in Birmingham and then transferred to New York with plans to go to graduate school. She took an unpaid internship at The Moth, a National Public Radio show and podcast that does live events around the world.
“I really hit it off with the founder of The Moth,” Edwards says. Although her internship was supposed to be one day a week, she ended up working at The Moth full time as well as continuing at her paying job.
Meanwhile, Edwards decided to forgo graduate school. Instead, she was asked to help produce Helen and Edgar, Edgar Oliver’s first long-form story on Off-Off-Broadway. The play premiered in October 2012. “It actually got a rave review in The New York Times by Ben Brantley,” she says. “It’s all about the reviews. We were really, really lucky. … None of us on the production side had ever done theater before.”
She adds, “From that, I found I had a talent for producing.”
Helen and Edgar is now at the Public Theater and also tours.
One thing led to another, with Edwards being introduced to documentary filmmaker Bradley Kaplan, who was creative partner with Albert Maysles, one of the first documentary filmmakers, known for films such as Grey Gardens.
Edwards worked with Kaplan on an independent feature film, Stealing Cars, which is scheduled for release in 2015.
“It was very hands-on, very stressful and lessons on how much I can do on a little sleep,” she says. “It introduced me to some incredible people.”
Edwards began reaching out to people in the film community about doing her own documentary and gained support. A mentor in New York, whom she won’t name, has made a number of documentaries, including one on LGBT rights. The filmmaker has won an Academy Award and is making a feature film based on his documentary, she says.
She is partnering with an associate producer in Los Angeles who is LGBT and is collaborating with celebrities who are supportive of LGBT rights. She hopes to get celebrity endorsements for her project.
Edwards believes she will get sufficient funding to do her documentary. “I want to turn the stereotype on its head,” she says.
She believes the media capitalizes on the negative side of stories. “I would rather know more about the victims or the heroes who save the day,” she says.
While in Birmingham, she has worked with Tyler Jones of 1504 Pictures, who helped with the filming. She says the promo video will be three-and-a-half minutes and will be up on Kickstarter for about a month.
Edwards is the daughter of Andrea Lucas, a stained glass artist with a studio in Irondale. She used her parents’ home in Homewood as her base while doing the promo video. She intends to be back in June, when she plans to do most of the filming.
Asked where she intends to film, she says she will start in Birmingham and probably Montgomery. After that, “It depends on where the story takes me.”