In 2009, documentarians Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir (The Brandon Teena Story) released Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, the touching true-life story of a lesbian couple who met in 1965 and remained together for more than 40 years.
While Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer weren’t well-known when Engagement hit the festival circuit, their names are on everyone’s lips now: Windsor’s lawsuit is now one of two marriage-equality cases going before the Supreme Court. (With Spyer’s passing in 2009, Windsor was forced to pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes—something she wouldn’t have to do if they were a married heterosexual couple.)
As we all wait with bated breath for the Supremes’ next move, Queerty chatted with Muska and Olafsdottir about their prescient film and its legacy.
What inspired you to tell Edie and Thea’s story?
Edie and Thea inspired us to make the film. We were introduced to them by our friend Brendan Fay, and, once we had met them ,we saw right away that these women were special and had a unique story.
We wanted to tell a love story. Anyone can relate to a love story—falling in love and all these wonderful things that come with that. It’s vital when making a documentary that the people and the stories you’re telling are unique, have a great presence, and are candid when telling their stories. Edie and Thea had all of these qualities and much more: Their whole life story is amazing and it also allowed us to include some major events when it came to civil rights and gay rights in America.
Plus, they lived few blocks away from us in New York. So we didn’t need to travel across the country as we have had to do in many of our other films!
Once you began filming, though, did the story turn into something different than you expected?
We knew it would be a dramatic love story spanning more than thirty years of the gay-rights movement, but we didn’t know how many gorgeous Kodachrome slides they had when we started. These slides became a testimony of their life together but also gave us, as filmmakers, a a fun throughline for their story.
Do you think the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Edie Windsor’s case changes the significance of A Very Long Engagement?
We don’t think the significance is changed—it’s always been a love story that resonates the absolute need to validate equal marriage. But we’re of course proud that our documentary is part of the case to reach the Supreme Court.
If you could, would you want to go back and add a new chapter? Not a new chapter—maybe we’d make new documentary or add a really nice DVD extra, an update, to the the original version.
What project(s) are you working on now?
We have two documentaries in the works but right now we’re working on A Very Long Vacation.
Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagementis now available from Breaking Glass Pictures.
Photo: T. Charles Erickson