Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A taste of Muskrat with Amy Nicholson

Amy Nicholson Amy Nicholson is the director of Muskrat Lovely, a documentary feature accepted by the Austin Film Festival in 2005. The film centers on a Maryland beauty pageant that accompanies an outdoor show, the main competition in which is a timed muskrat skinning contest.

How did you first hear about the Miss Outdoors pageant?

My Dad told me about the World Championship Muskrat Skinning contest. Of course I thought he was kidding, but when he insisted it was real, a friend and I drove down to Maryland to see it. We were reading the little brochure they hand out and saw that there was a pageant, too, and that the next year would be the 50th anniversary, so I vowed to come back and film it.

Were any of the girls uncomfortable about being interviewed or other aspects of making the film?

Muskrat LovelyNo one ever said no. Of course people are nervous to be on camera, but I spent some time with all the girls before their interview and they got to pick what they wanted to do that they thought was "glamorous."

Did you find yourself talking people into doing things they were hesitant to do?

The only guys I had to do a little coaxing with were the guys in front of the old store. They were a little shy, and of course the pageant tips were kind of silly. But once one agreed they all did.

What does muskrat taste like?

I never tasted muskrat the whole time. The day Rhonda Aaron was cooking and telling us how she skins, she was making her dish for the muskrat cooking competition, so she couldn't give us any. (Phew!)

How has the film been received in Golden Hill?

I had a screening for everyone in the film in March, just after this year's competition and it was huge success. They all loved it. I got a couple of hugs afterward!

Muskrat LovelyThe "vaseline on the teeth" trick is a standard chestnut of beauty pageant folklore. Did you pick up any unusual beauty pageant tips that you hadn't heard before?

I got the pageant tips from two books that I found that were standard old school beauty pageant manuals. When I told the ladies that wrote them what I was using them for, they thought it was cool.

The premise of the film sounds more like the stuff of a mockumentary than a documentary. Did you have to resist the urge to play certain scenes for laughs?

I played the whole thing for a laugh– never mind certain scenes! But I treated everyone with respect and tried to never cross the line of making fun of anyone on purpose. I worked very hard at that balance because I have seen films that crossed that line and I didn't like them.

The muskrat skinning competition seemed pretty fierce. Apart from the one pageant contestant who skins a muskrat in the talent show, are the younger citizens of Dorchester County interested in continuing the tradition?

There are a surprising number of young guys (and quite a few girls) that are learning to skin. We just didn't film them because they are pretty slow at this point and it didn't really add to the story. But, yes, some of the skinners are from families where the tradition has been passed on every generation.

Michael Moore was reportedly skittish about showing a woman skinning a rabbit in Roger & Me, but you seem to have no such compunctions about the skinning of muskrats. Are muskrats less loveable than bunnies?

Well, we knew the skinning would be hard for an audience to watch, so the editor and I always had the idea to show it only in the credits. But in early screenings, the muskrats seemed to 'go away' toward the end of the pageant for some people, so we chose to include the women's skinning a little earlier, and it was a nice break before the BIG QUESTION. As far as me being skittish, after you watch it a hundred or so times, you get immune. Besides, it's way worse in person . . . .

Have you heard from PETA?

No word from PETA yet but I am expecting some sort of protest.

Muskrat LovelyTell me about the gentlemen who read the competition guidelines aloud during the film.

Those guys were all the guys that hung out at a certain store down where they go out to fish in the morning. Down in that part of the country, the men get up very early and go a have coffee and gossip at the local hangout. I wanted to include the men somehow and had the idea to have them read the "tips". So I asked the guy who was my contact how I could get them all together and he said, "Just get up early and go down to the store."

Have you been back to Dorchester County for subsequent pageants?

I went back to cheer the girls on last year and I plan to go this year, too. It's fun to see everyone again, and they're such nice people.

What's next?

I've started working on something already. I want to do another documentary. After I sleep for a month.

Watch the Muskrat Lovely web site for news of upcoming screenings.


Blogger copernicus said...

And here I was thinking this was a documentary about the Captain and Tennille.


7:56 AM  
Blogger Henry Brennan said...

I live in Mississippi - everyone down here is disappointed. We were looking for recipes, dammit...

1:05 AM  

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