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Exploring A Grandmother’s Taboo Life, This Week on Frame of Mind 6

Hailing from countries all around the world and with 14 years as a Director of Photography under her belt, Carolyn Macartney is a seasoned independent photographer, director and producer. She’s shot music videos for Girls Against Boys, Motley Crüe and the Goo Goo Dolls. On top of the numerous music videos, Macartney has also filmed commercials, documentaries and short films. This week, I talk with Macartney about her documentary “Wanda the Wonderful.”

“Wanda the Wonderful” goes into detail about Macartney’s grandmother’s taboo life during the 1920s and ’40s. She worked as a sharpshooter, met one of her four love interests in a brothel and had multiple children with whom she had strained relationships. Using experimental and traditional documentary techniques, Macartney explores her grandmother’s life and finds a strong feminist.

  • Tune in to “Frame of Mind” on KERA TV Thursday at 11 p.m. to watch “Wanda the Wonderful.”
Arianne Margot as Wanda in "Wanda the Wonderful."

Arianne Margot as Wanda in “Wanda the Wonderful.”

On her goal for the documentary…
[My goal] was to tell the story of this woman’s life from two perspectives: one from a familial side because she was my grandmother, so I was interested in finding out about her. The other one being a different version of feminine history; a female character from the past who is defying what was generally shown in terms of being a woman in the world.   

On her attraction towards Wanda…
I didn’t know anything about her. She was my grandmother, but I only knew tiny pieces of her. I also related to her personally because of being a strong, independent woman and being fairly restless and quite manic [laughs]. I wanted to know the real deal behind her story. Part of it relates to me very specifically because I’m her kin and I wanted to find out the story and the mystery.

Would Wanda assimilate well today?
I think so, yeah! I think she would have a great time in today’s society. I think she probably would have had an easier time now. That’s another thing, I think, that people deny today. I think she would have had an easier time today but I also don’t think that we’re as far ahead as we think we are. She did stuff back then that people wouldn’t do now. So, I think that it’s useful to look at history and not think that we know everything, you’ve got to look at things within context. I think she would have a blast today. I don’t know what she would do but I’m sure she would have made a name for herself.

Carolyn Macartney

Carolyn Macartney

On the development of the story…
There was some stuff that’s not in the film that was a little too dark. That sounds weak, but it was told to me in confidence. I think one of the more surprising and interesting aspects was everyone’s different takes [on Wanda]. There’s the real person and then there’s everybody’s interpretation. Because I interviewed so many relatives and people about her, it was really interesting how the stories were either exactly the same or different. The closer the people were, the less they would say and the further they were, the more they would say. I thought that was one of the more interesting things about doing the project.

On why she thinks Wanda was taboo within her family…
Grandpa met her at a brothel. I was trying to be very respectful because a lot of guys say, “that’s the highlight, the brothel!” I don’t think from all the evidence I got that that was a highlight for her. That was a low point and she needed out of that place. So that’s where [Grandpa] met her and that’s what people cling to, as opposed to all the stuff she had done. And of course, she shot Grandpa. She had a terrible temper and was a little out of control.

On being featured on Frame of Mind…
I am so excited! I would love for the film to get out there [because] this is a different take on history. As a woman and a teacher, I feel like we don’t have enough strong, interesting and cool women to look up to. They’re there, they just haven’t been written about. This is what I also learned while making the film and being an academic — it’s not that these people didn’t exist and they didn’t do these awesome things, it’s that [other] people didn’t write books or do any work about them. If you don’t make work about people, then they cease to exist.

Watch one of Carolyn’s music videos, “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls.

To learn more about Carolyn, visit her website: