As Gloria Gaynor Doc Heads To Tribeca, Director Betsy Schechter Testifies How She Survived The Twists & Turns Of Eight-Year Process – WatchJune 8, 2023
When Gloria Gaynor watched the eponymous feature doc about the last eight years of her life, she thanked the director Betsy Schechter and started to sing a cappella. It was a moment that Schechter said she’d “never forget”.
Gaynor expected to do the same thing when Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive premieres at the Tribeca Festival on Friday.
The film has been a labor of love for Schechter, who runs Storyville Entertainment.
The doc tells Gaynor’s story – a career stalled by health issues and abuse and mismanagement from her now ex-husband – but it focuses on the last few years when she released a new gospel album, Testimony, which won her a second Grammy, 40 years after her first.
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It chronicles this comeback journey and highlights the support from her manager Stephanie Gold and what it took to get back to where she is, having earned a psychology degree in her later years.
Schechter told Deadline that a friend introduced her to Gaynor and her manager in 2015.
“Her life story is so compelling, but I knew I didn’t want to create a biopic that would only look back on her previous chapters of her life – as intriguing and dramatic as they were. Gloria was just about to embark on a new self-funded gospel album, Testimony, after having just earned her psychology degree at 71, when I became captivated by her passion and her mission to not just survive but to thrive, as well,” she said.
Schechter spent a few days filming the early days of the record in Nashville to “gut check whether it was worth pursuing”.
“I could not have predicted that I would spend almost eight years on this film, relentlessly documenting all the twists and turns that would happen as Gloria tried to finish this album and spread her message of hope and resilience to the public,” she added.
It was a departure for Schechter, who is best known for producing series such as A&E’s Paranormal State and Nat Geo’s Abandoned. “Working on Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive was an incredibly unique experience for me. I wore many hats, having directed, produced and self-funded this film. I also had the unusual luxury of time – something I never had before, considering with the tight deadlines of my other projects. Normally, I possess the foresight knowing how a film would end, but that was not the case with Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive, which simultaneously felt scary and exhilarating. In between finishing her album and touring worldwide, Gloria underwent surgery to avoid potential paralysis. Eventually, she completed her album, which featured a group of popular artists from the Gospel community, and she earned a Grammy 40 years after winning for I Will Survive,” she added.
Schechter worked closely with Kieran Healey, who previously worked on Hulu’s Power Trip, and David Zieff, who worked on seminal rock doc Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, as producers as well as Pippa Lambert, who helped bring it to the finish line.
The hope is now to score a distribution deal at Tribeca and there’s potential plans to launch a run of special theatrical screenings, playing to Gaynor’s fanbase, as well as faith audiences.
“The film has global reach, so naturally, we are looking into both US and international distribution,” she said. “Gloria is a music legend in the United States and an enormous star overseas, and we have followed her journey throughout the world, where she’s performed at Mexico Coachella, in the Middle East and for the French National Football Team.”
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