Ali Weinstein features subjects enamoured with mermaids
Whether mermaids fascinate you or not, there is a certain allure to this unusual documentary that will not let you look away.
Despite a handful of choice underwater shots, the cinematography isn’t spectacular, and the delivery of Mermaids is as average as you can expect with non-fiction storytelling.
The overwhelming draw is the subject matter itself, an unusual topic buoyed by even more unexpected stories. The term documentary immediately associates an exploration of something we know to be a part of our world, but Canadian director Ali Weinstein chose to explore an ancient myth come alive in modern times.
Throughout history—from the ancient Greeks to indigenous shamans and voodoo priests—stories about women of the water have been woven into cultural fabrics and imbedded in our imaginations. Dangerous, mysterious, magical and free, mermaids hold a unique allure and absolutely transformative power for a niche subculture in contemporary society.
Narrative tales of mermaids, from the sister of Alexander the Great to the Brazilian Princess Yara, meld the stories of five modern mermaids and the supporting characters who have embraced this eccentric reality.
We all know the common concept of a dive bar, but Dive Bar in Sacramento, California has a human aquarium offering a handful of women one of the most whimsical jobs in the world, yet the reaction of some patrons is what is most extraordinary. We then visit the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida where mermaid shows have been captivating audiences for more than six decades.
Considered an underwater circus where a roster of women perform stunts and musical numbers for a 400-seat theatre behind glass, the original performers didn’t don a single scale—their underwater presence with no more than a subtle air hose was enough to mesmerize the countless visitors. Mermaids caught up with the ‘legends,’ a group of Weeki Wachee mermaids from the ‘50s who thumbed through photo albums and old postcards from their days of watery stardom before returning to the famous tank for one last show. These women not only formed a lifelong bond, but a capacity for the unbridled freedom below the surface that nothing else can satisfy.
Exemplifying the identity struggles of many, Julz Owen—a transgendered woman from Virginia—found a comforting and communal foundation with her tail and was quickly embraced by a mermaid meetup group in California. And then there’s Ralph de Jesus and his wife Cookie from the Harlem borough of New York City. Born into an abusive environment as ‘Norma,’ Cookie found her key to escape in the 1948 film Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, overcoming phobias and beating back mental illness and prescription dependence with her tail, and Ralph’s unwavering support (the man sews her mermaid clothes).
From tail-making to children’s parties, the mermaid myth has found a real place in the lives of many, and the astonishment of this reality does not relent. While these individuals not only embrace, but embody the myth of the mermaid, the impact they have on the imaginations of the masses and their ability to elicit genuine wonder and awe is what strikes that deep human chord and ignites the capacity we all have to believe in magic.
Aug., 4, 5, 7 & 10