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Sarah Townsend: The Last Strand
by Karen Pecota

I was invited to review a new documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story by British filmmaker, Sarah Townsend, and enthusiastically seized the opportunity. I thought that with a name like Izzard the film must have an interesting storyline. It did! And, a resounding message that lingered with me for weeks. While I was preparing for an interview with the documentary director, Sarah Townsend, she received news that the 62nd Primetime Emmy® Awards of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences nominated Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story along with five other pieces in the category for Outstanding Non-fiction Special. Wow! I was excited!

Curious as to how Sarah received the nomination notice, she happily recalled that it was at the end of a long work day where she had no cell phone reception due to being in an underground building. When she surfaced street side, she noticed that her inbox was full. Listening to the messages, one by one, they rang with voices of jubilee and congratulatory statements of an Emmy nomination. She was in shock and kept saying to herself, “What? What! What?” out of disbelief. The sun shining brightly, Sarah stopped for fear of a faint coming on and leaned against the nearest street building for support while taking several deep breaths. She explained that, though aware of their submission to the academy the news came as a total surprise. She never dreamed that the project would be a contender from a small independent production company. Joyfully, it is a day she will never forget.

At the age of eight, Sarah was a child prodigy directing her brothers and sisters with packaged (script, costumes, props all in one) children plays during the holidays. Sarah had a sixth-sense for directing and later added career opportunities as a producer and manager of stage shows, musicals and comedy acts throughout Britain and Ireland. Sarah’s repertoire with live theater is extensive as is her wide-range of relational connections in the theater world; but, this did not give her automatic entrance to storytelling via the moving picture. When Eddie heard of Sarah’s desire to cross over from theater into film, he invited her to shoot one of his specials. She was flattered but declined the offer because she did not know enough about filming with numerous cameras. After much thought, she suggested to Eddie that it would be in her reach to make a single camera documentary and how about a story of his rise to fame. Due to their long history together Eddie trusted Sarah to do the story justice. And, that she did!

I asked Sarah how she got the Academy nod toward her project and she didn’t know but felt strongly that the people were truly interested in Eddie. She also made an executive decision not to expose every detail of Eddie’s life and hung onto the aspects that were unusually telling. She adds, “The film’s message is clear: having faith. Not in reference to the God-like faith but faith in believing in our self, other people and the dream. So many people today have experienced broken dreams simply in the wake of our struggling economy. Eddie never stopped believing in his talent, skill and his love to entertain. I believe that he was honest about that which was always happening to him with a mixture of humility and pride that seemed healthy enough to carry him through the good, as well as, the bad times. I hope that what I have made is not a fairytale but a reason to have faith to do whatever it takes to believe in our own personal abilities. When discouragement comes and we fall down, we can choose to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and start again. To make this film was an exhausting process. I, too, felt like giving up! Over the course of seven years, I had made four different strands (versions) of Eddie’s story. In the end, it was the last strand (his failures paved to his success) that was the one message of Eddie’s story that I wanted to tell”.

The last strand was the story she initially had in mind to film but she felt she lacked experience with the camera to project her idea and she was intimidated by those giving their advice. She listened to the seasoned experts and steadily collaborated to find a finished product but something was missing. The project gained forward motion with an editor that would indulge her and let her go back to the strand she felt told Eddie’s Story best. Seven long years later, the project is realized and now with honor. It was a privilege to interview Sarah Townsend after receiving the Emmy nomination validating her work; but, even if she had never received such recognition, I gleaned from her passion to believe in the realities of a filmmaker and her first feature documentary.