Christy's dream attracts film crew
Documentary filmmakers will capture a local songwriter’s quest to gain the attention of television celebrity Dr Phil.
For years, Bamboo Room and Pioneer Bar owner Christy Tengs Fowler has tried to get her demo album “The Dr. Phil Project” into the hands of the talk show host and psychologist who inspired the nine songs with his witticisms and philosophies.
Dr. Phillip McGraw so far hasn’t acknowledged Fowler’s work, even when she traveled to Los Angeles and managed to get the CD in the hands of a couple people loosely affiliated with McGraw.
The work of four Seattle-based documentary filmmakers may change that.
The crew came to Haines Oct. 7-14 to begin filming for “Above the Bamboo Room,” a documentary intent on telling Fowler’s exceptional life story while gaining publicity for the local songwriter.
Co-producer Terri Weagant met Fowler when she lived in Haines five years ago. Weagant said she became captivated by the bar owner years later after reading an article in the CVN.
Freelance reporter Sara Chapell recounted Fowler’s graduation from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1983 and her travels to Nashville to promote an earlier demo album, which she recorded in Los Angeles. Fowler was offered a chance to work with CBS Records’ staff writers, but returned to Haines to run the bar at the request of her father.
The narrative is familiar: the talented dreamer trapped by the realities of life keeping her dream alive in the face of adversity. The specifics of Fowler’s story might be unique, but the general trajectory of her life, her circumstances, and her perseverance speak to the human condition.
That’s why Weagant and her colleagues David Wulzen, Monica Wulzen and Danny Galarneau didn’t just spend hours and hours interviewing Fowler. They talked to Fowler’s family members, friends and employees, as well as longtime Haines residents.
“We wanted to paint a big picture of Haines and the idea of the dream,” Weagant said. “Haines has got a whole bunch of huge dreamers, and we’re trying to figure out if is it only in a place like this people can have dreams this huge? Is everywhere else too jaded?”
Fowler said she spent about 15 hours in filmed interviews at various locations around town: in the Bamboo Room, in her apartment above the restaurant, in her songwriting office. Some moments were lighthearted, like when the filmmaker’s captured Fowler’s 86-year-old mother doing the full-on can-can dance, and when Fowler’s son Marty showed up for his interview in a suit with a dollar-bill bowtie.
Other interview sessions were more introspective. Filmmakers asked Fowler some hard questions, like why she passed up the CBS Records opportunity to come back to Haines, and if she regrets her choice. And one of the most difficult questions: What would she do if Dr. Phil isn’t interested?
“I felt like I was in therapy with these guys, because they were asking me some very poignant questions. It was almost like a healing process. It got me thinking about things,” Fowler said.
The week was intense, she said. “I felt like I had just got done doing 10 hours of Zumba. It was draining.” Being in front of the camera was difficult at first, but feelings of self-consciousness eased as she became more familiar with the people sitting behind the camera, she said.
While hanging out in the Bamboo Room just to get a feel for the place, the crew even starting helping out around the restaurant, she said. “Terri ended up pouring coffee and bussing tables yesterday. We were busy and David and Monica ended up running to the store to pick up the burger. Terri fixed a toilet in the ladies’ room. They are the best people I could ever imagine. I am so honored to know them.”
Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott, who worked for Fowler’s father, said the filmmakers came to her house Oct. 10 and asked her what she thought would happen if the Bamboo Room closed.
“The Bamboo Room is such a community gathering place for a group of people, that it would be truly a loss. We need those places where people can gather informally and hash things out and meet together,” she said.
Childhood friend Judy Heinmiller was also interviewed for the film, solo and with Fowler alongside. Heinmiller called the whole experience “surreal.”
“We’ve had so much reality TV in town that the contrast of someone actually doing a documentary... We kind of joked between ourselves on what it is actually going to turn out as,” Heinmiller said.
Others interviewed for the film included Heather Lende, Sara Chapell, Mike Case, Jan Hill, Pattrick Price, Kevin Thompson, Jae McDermaid, Jim Lampkins, Amy Hocking, Debra Schnabel, Tony Tengs, Chevy Fowler, and Max Gail.
Weagant said this was only the first of three trips to Haines, and the crew intends to come back next summer and winter to do more filming. This is Weagant’s first foray into documentary filmmaking. Executive producer David Wulzen works for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation doing advocacy film work and has extensive experience in the film field.
Weagant, who teaches at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, said after filming, she’ll start into fundraising by doing grant-writing. She is also looking into crowd-sourcing, which involves using social platforms like Kickstarter to raise funds.
“This is just the beginning stage and it’s really exciting to see what’s going to happen next,” Weagant said. “Our story has shifted from what we thought it was going to be at the beginning to the story of different people and their relationship with Christy.”
“We don’t know exactly when the editing process will finish. We’d love to see it go out and be distributed, but we’re not exactly sure just yet,” Weagant added.
Fowler said she is in no rush. With 21 Dr. Phil songs finished and more in the works, she said she is just enjoying the ride and will continue dreaming while she scrubs tables and pours coffee.