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HEAVEN THROUGH THE BACKDOOR a documentary feature in postproduction

“Heaven Through the Backdoor” explores identity, judgment and spirituality through the experience of Swiss émigré Yo (Yolanda Shea), a fiercely independent 88-year old woman who we meet as she prepares for her next great adventure: death.
The project juxtaposes intimate documentary footage of the last two years of Yo's life with cinematic interpretations of Yo’s stories using intricately built miniature sets and other creations.
Yo’s journey generously and intimately shares the experience of a woman navigating the emotional and spiritual aspects of confronting the end of her life in the absence of organized religion.
Anna set dressing 1/3 scale model of Yo's house.

STORY: Yolanda Shae was many things: a great-grandmother, career weed dealer, intellectual, psychic, hostess, tyrant - and, above all, a captivating storyteller. We meet Yo in a tiny shotgun shack in Pacific Grove, California where she has lived for 40 years. The narrative structure of our film is built from a series of stories she tells about the formative events in her life. These epic tales are set against the backdrop of her failing health during the last year of her life.

Yo’s stories, which span eight decades and five continents, are presented virtually uncut to honor her “performance.” Our artistic interpretations of her stories range from subtle to indulgent and use varied techniques, including intricately built sets, animal actors, puppetry and an archive of family photos. To us, her stories are teachings: they hold great life lessons, historical perspective and important wisdom. Throughout her life, Yo defied authority figures and those who sought to discipline her unconventional ways, contesting ideas about womanhood, monogamy, religion and, eventually, aging and death.

EXHIBITION: The final project will include a feature length documentary film and a series of gallery exhibitions that feature the one-third scale version of Yo’s house, made objects and media elements. Our roll out of the film will be coordinated with the exhibition of the work in public spaces. The locations we choose to display the work will also become gathering places, bringing a vital social element to how the work is experienced.

PROJECT STATUS: We are currently in the late stages of production and are editing concurrently. We began shooting in 2011. We filmed for 2.5 years, intimately observing and participating in Yo’s life. She passed away in 2013. In 2017, we completed building our first miniature house and began production on the recreations and creative interpretations of Yo’s stories. In the fall of 2019, we will be doing a residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts, which will include building a series of sets and objects inspired by Yo’s stories and related production shooting. In 2020, we will complete the edit and final production. We will premiere the project in 2021.

SUPPORTED BY: Sundance Documentary Film Program, SFFILM, Creative Work Fund, Pacific Pioneer Fund, Headlands Center for the Arts and the Center for Cultural Innovation.

YOLANDA SHEA: Yolanda Shea was born in Chiasso, Switzerland in 1924 and died peacefully at her home in Pacific Grove, California in 2013. Yo is the protagonist of this epic tale and, more than that, she was a rigorous collaborator, a dear friend and a deep inspiration in our art and life.

FILMMAKING TEAM:

Filmmakers Banker White and Anna Fitch

ANNA FITCH & BANKER WHITE (Director, Producer, Camera, Editor): Anna Fitch and Banker White are multidisciplinary artists and award-winning filmmakers based who founded Mirabel Pictures in 2010. Their work has been supported by the Sundance Documentary Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Creative Capital, MacArthur Foundation, the Tribeca Film Institute, Impact Partners, ITVS, DocSociety, the Catapult Film Fund, The Fledgling Fund, LEF, the California Council for Humanities and the Pacific Pioneer Fund, among others. Their films have been broadcast on HBO, Netflix, PBS, National Geographic Channel, BBC and Channel4 UK; have toured at festivals worldwide and have won multiple awards, including an Emmy. Most recently, Anna and Banker co-directed and produced "The Genius of Marian" (Tribeca 2013 / POV 2014); and, "Survivors" (IDFA 2018 / POV 2018). "Survivors" was co-produced with filmmakers at the WeOwnTV Freetown Media Center, a filmmaking collective Banker co-founded based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The two live and work in San Francisco, California with their two children, Dylan and Oscar.

SARA DOSA (Producer) is an award-winning documentary director and producer based in San Francisco, California. Dosa’s feature directorial debut, THE LAST SEASON took home a Golden Gate Award at its SFIFF 2014 world premiere, was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award, was acquired by PBS and by First Run Features after its festival run. Most recently, she directed the feature doc THE SEER & THE UNSEEN, which won the McBaine Bay Area Documentary Prize upon its SFFILM 2019 premiere; and directed an episode of Netflix’s ReMASTERED music docuseries. Dosa co-produced AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER (Sundance / Cannes 2017); produced the Peabody award-winning AUDRIE & DAISY (Sundance / Netflix 2016); and co-produced THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY (Sundance / Netflix 2019). In addition to producing their HEAVEN THROUGH THE BACKDOOR, Dosa produced Anna Fitch and Banker White’s SURVIVORS (IDFA / POV 2018).

SIMON CHEFFINS (set builder) is a British-American set-builder, fabricator and sculptor who has worked with many award-winning filmmakers and artists for the last three decades.He is a founding member of Crash Worship, Blood Lake, and the Extra Action Marching Band. He currently resides in San Francisco, California. His narrative short The Burning Wigs of Sedition (writer, co-director, set builder 2010) screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, the National Gallery of Art, the Woodstock Film Festival, Rooftop and won a Best of Festival prize at the Black Maria Film Festival, and the Audience Award at SF IndieFest.

ROBIN FROHARDT (puppet designer) Known for her rich aesthetic and highly detailed constructions, Robin Frohardt is an award-winning artist, puppet designer and director living in Brooklyn, NY. Frohardt has a knack for taking a simple premise to an elaborate realization. Her rich imagination, unique sense of humor and stunning technical craft come together to create work that defies the conventions of traditional storytelling. Her original play "The Pigeoning" hailed by the New York Times as “a tender, fantastical symphony of the imagination,” debuted in 2013 and continues to tour at home and abroad and has been translated into German, Greek, Arabic and Turkish. In 2016 she received a Creative Capital Award for her new work "The Plastic Bag Store" an installation and performance that takes place in a fake grocery store in a real storefront and addresses the long term impact of disposable plastic packaging. She is currently developing the work through a DisTil Fellowship at the University of North Carolina. She is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and the first artist in Residence at Olson Kundig a renown design and architecture firm in Seattle.

CONTACT: Anna Fitch | annamsfitch@gmail.com | 415.999.8578 www.mirabelpictures.org

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