Pin-up ladies head our way

From one historic courthouse to another, from the USA to Gympie, everybody's talking about the Courthouse Girls.

And the senior ladies of Farmland, Indiana, are in turn telling the world about Gympie's Heart of Gold International Film Festival.

The seven bridge club ladies caused a major media frenzy in the USA when they made a calendar - a nude calendar - and then a movie, to protest against plans by their local authority to demolish the historic Randolph County Courthouse.

“Everyone said 'Go for it! Show them we may be old, but we're not dead!” one of the ladies explains on the Courthouse Girls official website.

The film, made by radio, television and film industry veteran Angela Soper, has picked up film festival awards and attracted rave reviews, with one critic describing it as “hilarious and thought provoking at the same time.”

“The film, 'Courthouse Girls of Farmland' is a documentary that will have you cheering for the senior human spirit and inspiring you to be the difference in your community, whatever the cause,” wrote one enthusiastic audience member.

Now, the seven senior women have launched another calendar and an online shop selling their T-shirts, DVDs, and other symbols of their struggle to “Raise the Roof” of the ageing courthouse, with 10 per cent of sales going to the project.

And meanwhile, back in Gympie, Australia, Heart of Gold festival director Toni Powell is over the moon about having the film as part of our city's big international film festival, in March.

Speaking outside Gympie's own historic court house, she said it was possible some of the women would visit Gympie for the festival.

The film was one of 900 entries in the Heart of Gold event. It is a number which Ms Powell describes as “staggering for a relatively new festival, especially when we have such strict criteria”.

Heart of Gold entries have to be life affirming and uplifting, she said.

“It shows the festival is gaining a reputation worldwide and that's what you want - because that's how you get good films.”

Meanwhile, across the Pacific and on the other side of the world, Ms Soper is equally keen on her first documentary film being accepted over here, despite already winning acclaim - and a string of film festival awards - in America.

This is how she raved about the thrill of appearing in our festival, when she aired her views on the official Courthouse Girls website: “Most recently we learned that the film has been accepted into the Heart of Gold International Film Festival in Gympie, Australia, in March.

“The film has been an official selection of the DC Independent Film Festival in Washington DC, Breckenridge Festival of Film (where it won top audience award), Washougal (Honourable Mention) and Tacoma Film Festivals in Washington State, Santa Fe Film festival in New Mexico and will make its international debut at the Heart of Gold,” she enthused.

The women are Ermel Gordon, Eileen Herron, Iraida David-Leitch, Garneta Amburn, Wanda Grove, Frances Hensley and Mary Ellen Talley.

“It's a fun film that always generates cheers and laughter and makes people feel pretty darned good about the human spirit - especially when it is packaged in seven women who are as charming as they are courageous.

"We're working on finding a way to get a few of us over there for that event,” she said.

As another admirer summed up: “This is a great little film about how standing up for one's beliefs (in one's birthday suit, in this case) can educate and empower a community.”

The firm may be Angelo Soper's first documentary, but she has more than 20 years experience as an on-air host, writer and producer in radio, television and film. Her work has won numerous industry awards and se has written for Pax Television, The Washington Post, People magazine and the Salt Lake City Tribune.

She currently works as a freelance writer and media consultant.

The film is about a small town, historic preservation and seven senior women who got up from their bridge club table to make a bold and controversial statement.

“It all began in 2005,” Ms Soper said. “The commissioners of East Central Indiana's Randolph County voted two-to-one to destroy the county's historic courthouse and replace it with a new building.”

Many were outraged, including Angela and her brother Jerome Herron. They came up with an idea loosely based on the British phenomenon, the Calendar Girls.

Soon Herron and Soper's 87-year-oldmother Eileen Herron and six of her bridge club friends were posing as centerfolds for the 2006 Courthouse Girls calendar.

The calendar added sparks to an already growing protest firestorm. Called everything from “brilliant” to “geriatric soft-core porn” they became media headliners on TV, radio and in print in the USA and Canada.

They became a symbol of the pressure on historic buildings across small town America.

They raised more than $45,000 and the commissioners rescinded their decision.

But the big question remains. As they pose behind their strategically placed protest posters, are they really naked?

“We'll never tell!” the producers say.

We may be old, but we're not dead!

Gympie Times

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