Both eyebrows and spirits flew up over the film “Courthouse Girls of Farmland,” which The Visionary Edge will screen Saturday evening.
The 59-minute film, directed by Norman Klein, concerns a battle to save a historic building, a conservative township, a controversial 2006 calendar and seven spunky senior women who flew in the face of convention by posing for it — and loved every minute of it.
“When people see (the calendar), they always laugh, they cheer, they want to buy a calendar, they want (the women) to sign it,” said Angela Soper of Salt Lake City, who co-produced the film with her brother Jerome Herron and his life partner Laurence Francer. “I feel like people feel good about them being old and standing up for themselves against people who try to make them feel bad.”
It all began in summer 2005 when commissioners in Randolph County, in east-central Indiana, voted 2-1 to demolish the county’s circa-1875 courthouse.
Soon afterward, Soper, her brother, their then-87-year-old mother Eileen Herron and Francer discussed it in Eileen’s kitchen in the small town of Farmland.
Herron took it badly. “My brother was furious,” said Soper.
But their mother took it philosophically — and with sly cunning. Inspired by the British film phenomenon “The Calendar Girls,” Eileen went to her bridge club — which consisted of women age 77 to 94 — and they came up with an idea to pose for their own calendar and sell copies, using proceeds to save the building.
To Soper, there was a fitting analogy. “There was this beautiful old building, with the scars of time, and these beautiful old women, vibrant and beautiful as old women can be,” she said.
The group enlisted the help of a local photographer and printer, and then Eileen Herron and six of her fellow bridge players posed suggestively as centerfolds, with porcelain replicas of the 1877 Italianate-style courthouse placed strategically in front of their bodies. Then copies of the calendar were sold, with $5 per calendar going into a Save the Courthouse fund.
In conservative, churchgoing Farmland, though, the calendar ignited a firestorm. The controversy also touched on the gay relationship between Larry Francer and Jerome Herron. “Some people in town got really upset,” said Soper. “They had a fit.”
The women and the calendar made news across the nation and in Canada. Reactions ranged from “geriatric soft-core porn” to brilliant. In Farmland, three of the women were haled before the congregation of their Quaker church, where the minister demanded that they repent.
The women held their ground, and the tide turned: Sales of the calendar raised $45,000, the minister apologized, the commissioners rescinded their decision and plans are now under way to renovate the building, as well as create a Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission to help in restoring other buildings.
The film captures this story while suggesting others: the plight of American small towns and their histories, the value of seniors, and the power of each person to make change. “You’re never too old to make a difference,” said Soper.
The film has won top awards at various American film festivals and is due to debut at the Heart of Gold International Film Festival in Australia in March.
“So many of us never created necessary change in society in our youth, and I think as we get older we start asking ourselves, ‘Not if, but when?’” said film director Klein. “I was really impressed by these women and their courage to — literally — put themselves on the line for a cause they believed in.”
The screening starts at 7:30 p.m. at the train depot below the Johnston House at 110 Higgins Purisima Road. Admission is $10/advance and $15 at the door. For information, call 560-0200.