SDF to showcase films on Beatles insider, Lucy Daniels

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 05:25 PM

The Southern Documentary Fund is presenting two new works at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival  -- a film about the secretary to the Beatles and a film about the struggles of a daughter of a Southern newspaper family.

Filmmaker Ryan White’s documentary “Good Ol’ Freda” chronicles Freda Kelly’s 11 years inside the Beatles organization. From 1961 until she left in 1972, Kelly ran the band’s fan club and did other publicity work. The film had its world premiere earlier this year at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

Elisabeth Haviland James’ “In So Many Words” will have its premiere at Full Frame. The film chronicles the struggles of novelist and therapist Lucy Daniels, daughter of Jonathan Daniels, former publisher of The News & Observer. The Southern Documentary Fund, a non-profit documentary organization, sponsored both films.

Kelly, who was fiercely loyal to the Beatles, particularly where their privacy was concerned, has refused previous offers to tell her story. White’s uncle, Billy Kinsley, was a member of the Merseybeats, musical contemporaries of the Beatles in Liverpool. White has been to Liverpool several times throughout his life, and he knew Kelly first as a friend of his aunt, Sandra Kinsley. “I’ve grown up knowing Freda from family weddings and Christmases” and family gatherings, White said in a phone interview. But he did not know of her Beatles history until a few years ago.

That family connection in part encouraged Kelly to tell her story. White, a graduate of Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, produced the documentary “Pelada,” and is at work on “Perry v. Schwarzenegger,” about the challenge to California’s Proposition 8. “She brought the idea to me,” White said of Kelly, even though she had been wary because of “what she saw the Beatles go through” with publicity.

But Kelly “had reached this point in her life with her grandson that she wanted to put this down as a legacy for her family. … I liked the idea. I had many phone calls with her across the pond. I was really blown away because I never knew Freda had known the Beatles, much less worked for them,” White said.

White, 31, grew up listening to the Beatles, but he said the interest in their music never extended to learning their history. Making “Good Ol’ Freda” took a good six months or so of research, and Kelly’s boxes of archival materials were invaluable to the process, he said.

James’ previous films include “The Lord God Bird” (producer) and “Brothers in Arms” (co-producer). She was the producer and editor of director Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Loving Story.”

Daniels’ children approached her about doing the documentary, James said. When she began reading Daniels’ novels “Caleb, My Son” and “High on a Hill,” and her memoir “With a Woman’s Voice: A Writer’s Struggle for Emotional Freedom,” James said she realized a strict documentary approach would not be the best way to tell Daniels’ story.

“I was struck when I read her memoir by the more cerebral, descriptive things she wrote,” James said. “With the archives we had, we weren’t going to get to the same visceral, creative response,” she said.

She decided to structure “In So Many Words” with four elements. The first and most dominant section is an interview with Lucy Daniels telling her experiences with anorexia, electro shock therapy, analysis, and her decision to become a therapist. (Daniels runs the Lucy Daniels Foundation, which encourages understanding of creativity through psychoanalysis.)

The film has a series of impressionistic scenes in which young actors play Daniels at different times in her childhood and young adulthood. James’ husband, artist Revere La Noue (who also produced the film), created a set of snow globe scenes that try to reflect some of Daniels’ memories and thoughts. Finally, the film has archival photographs of Daniels growing up, and when she married and had her own family. All of these elements “are intended to tell a different part of her story,” James said.

Because Daniels’ story is about memories, reflections and coming to terms with those memories, this approach to the film allowed James to get at those inner feelings in ways a strict archival approach would not allow, she said. “I wanted [the film] to be true to what she believes the meaning of her story is.”

James said she is much more accustomed to films that take an historical or cinema vérité approach to subjects. Making “In So Many Words” “opened a whole new door, and I enjoyed it enormously as a filmmaker.”