Q&A: Candida Royalle Teams With Canadian Filmmaker for Bio-Doc

VANCOUVER — Canadian filmmaker Sheona McDonald recently teamed up with adult icon Candida Royalle to make a feature-length documentary biopic about the latter's life and times.

Spanning beyond Royalle's time in the porn industry to look at her early life, the film will focus on her current search to find the mother who left her at 18 months old, her battle with ovarian cancer, and her formative time as an adult star and then a producer of adult content through the female lens.

The duo plans to launch an Indiegogo campaign in late June to raise $275K, which McDonald says is the minimum amount she needs  “to do the film properly and pay people and get it finished and out into the world.”

The yet-untitled film was hatched by happenstance when McDonald interviewed Royalle for her forthcoming film “Inside Her Sex” for CBC’s digital documentary channel in Canada, which began as an exploration of women and porn (women making porn and women watching porn) but evolved to encompass the broader spectrum of the relationship between female sexuality and shame.  

Finding that many of themes present in the doc were present in Royalle’s story, she reached out to her again in January of this year in hopes of setting up future interviews for “Inside Her Sex.” After corresponding via email and phone, the two were mutually inspired by each other to pursue an entirely separate project — the story, more or less, of Royalle’s life.

Royalle and McDonald plan to film the doc throughout 2014 and begin editing late this year or early next year. Should the film get funded in full, McDonald anticipates that it will release in the summer of 2015.

“We are open to distribution possibility and executive producers — right now it's her and me!” McDonald said. “But we're getting a remarkable amount done.”

XBIZ caught up with Royalle and McDonald to discuss the documentary further.

What is the movie about?

MCDONALD: “Candida Royalle's Bio Doc” (working title TBA) is a documentary about Candida's life.

A very important piece of the puzzle for her film will be the story about her family. When Candida was 18 months old, her mother left and she never had contact with her again in her life. It wasn't until 60-some years later, in March of this year, that Candida reached out to a private investigator to try and find her mother, to finally answer the deep and burning question that will likely become a backbone in the film, 'Why did you leave me?'

Beyond that, Candida's foray into pornography as an actress is a valuable part of her story, but I think it's her coming out of that career and rather than hiding away from her work in pornography, she went full throttle the other way and realized that there was a need for porn from a female perspective, and started to make it. That choice is interesting and shaped the remainder of her career.

Often when we set out to make a doc the questions are ‘Why This? Why Me? Why Now?’

This is a story that is both complicated and simple. Titillating and taboo. Relatable and foreign. It's prime material, visually, for a documentary and it's a story that hasn't been told in full from Candida's perspective.

Now, in some ways the answer to this question is 'Why not now?' However, there is a darker answer to that question. Candida has had ovarian cancer that has gone into remission and returned three times. Most recently last fall. It is again in remission, but it seems to be aggressive and determined to return. It saps her energy and puts a clock on things that didn't exist there before. Time is of the essence.

ROYALLE: What Sheona didn’t include is that while my cancer may be tough, I’m tougher. I’ve always been a survivor  — from the time I fought a big, burley guy off in the woods who tried to sexually attack me when I was a mere tiny, skinny, flat-chested 13 year old to all the other life challenges that may have taken others down. I’m a fighter and I win.

There’s a whole new generation of DNA-based cancer drugs that’s particularly beneficial to women like me ... that drug is about to be approved within the next half-year and it’s going to keep me alive for far longer yet. I don’t see myself as losing this battle. I may have to keep fighting, but I’m not giving up.

What inspired you to pursue this project? How did the idea develop?

MCDONALD: I can't remember exactly how it went down, but I believe she told me a little bit about a few things that were going on for her and we agreed that, while interesting, they wouldn't fit with ['Inside Her Sex'], but that she should consider a biography film. I think she told me she'd started down that path with someone but the process had been aborted. I would say we both, perhaps, had an inkling at that point that we might be embarking on something together, but we were both cautious — we agreed to meet in Manhattan in March and I would spend a couple of days with her at her home thereafter.

We hit it off and, while gathering the information and interviews and materials I needed to make the film I'm finishing, I also suggested, since I was there with a camera, that we capture some of the other stories for her bio, so she had them. But I think it was also pretty clear, at that point, that we were considering moving towards that bio project together. During that visit she made a phone call to a private investigator about her mother.

ROYALLE: I have to jump in here and say that I pretty much knew right away that this might very well be the stroke of luck I needed to get back on track with my bio-doc. For nearly a year I had been exploring the idea of working with a guy, who also happened to have been very talented and pretty successful in the world of documentary filmmaking.

That said, for a variety of reasons our partnership was not meant to be, and quite fortunately Sheona came along with the same professional creds — talent and enough success to show promise — as well as a number of other qualities that actually made me glad my first collaborator didn’t work out:  a tremendous amount of sensitivity which comes out in the way she tells a story, an ability to make lovely pictures, a calm, even quality to her personality, a generosity of spirit, both in a personal and professional way, and finally, something one has little control over: she’s a woman.

So when I heard from Sheona about whether I would let her ask me a few more questions, my recollection seems to be that the idea of her helping me get my bio-doc back on track seems to have come up fairly soon. Maybe it’s just because I was hoping it would lead to that, but I knew pretty soon that this was where I wanted it to go. I had liked her so much when she interviewed me the first time that I felt like this was one of those fateful gifts, like it was meant to not work out with the previous documentary filmmaker because Sheona was — based on my initial experience with her and how in sync I felt with her — she was the perfect collaborator for me.

You know, it’s a very personal thing to open my life up to someone I’ve hardly known and to consider working closely with them for what will likely be at least a year or two, or maybe even more. There needs to be a feeling of trust in terms of what they’ll be learning about me, what I’ll be sharing with them. It’s all rather intimate. There’ll be some things I may not have told anyone but my sister, or very close friends … or my therapists! And think about what she’s committing to: becoming embroiled in my personal, intimate life; and promising to stay involved and interested in my life, my story. This is no small involvement.

Coming from an earlier generation, how did Candida (you) help pioneer a place for women in the adult biz?

CANDIDA:  So, how did I help pioneer a place for women in the adult biz? I would say that seeing a woman successfully step behind the camera, especially a woman who was in front of the camera at one point, pretty much the nearly lowest rung on the set, would be encouraging for other young women to observe. I’ve had many young women both in the adult biz and those who are merely observers, speak of being inspired by not just the fact that I stepped behind the camera, but that I did it on my terms, and that I pioneered a whole new genre: erotic cinema from a woman’s perspective.

After having my work distributed by a major adult film distributor, I negotiated to get my first three titles back and start up my own international distribution company. I oversaw domestic sales, hired a sales person, and learned to negotiate my own foreign and cable TV licensing, which I did between ’86 and ’96, at which point I negotiated with PHE, Inc (Adam & Eve) to take over domestic distribution (I kept foreign distribution) and finance new productions.

I also learned how to market and promote my film line, discovering that the course in public speaking that I took in college years before unwittingly prepared me to be the spokesperson for Femme Productions and Distribution. ...

Being the producer, director, editor and distributor was inspiring for young women to see. It actually took an entire generation after me — my generation’s daughters! — to have the guts to break one of the last remaining taboos and begin to create their own adult features and run their own companies.

Who do you plan on interviewing from the adult industry?

CANDIDA: We’ll interview lots of people: my Club 90 sisters, the support group I helped start back in ’83 — Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Hart, Veronica Vera — these women also directed features for me; my close friend Jamye Waxman; probably Nina Hartley who’s been in several of my Femme movies and whom I consider a friend; and people from the sexology community. We’ll probably begin to compile a list in the coming week[s].