Celebrities

Valley Film Fest: Veteran Songstress in Notable ‘Transformation’

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West Hollywood filmmakers and video journalists Renee Sotile and Mary Jo Godges didn’t expect to make a film when they packed their gear to cover last year’s Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival. But once the prolific team returned home and looked at their footage from an amazing lineup of jazz talent, one performer, who has a storied history as a pop singer, stood out.

The result is “#NonaHendryx Transformation,” a short film that will screen at the Valley Film Festival in North Hollywood on Saturday, Oct. 1 (sponsored by WeHo’s Mazur Archives), and in Minnesota at the Sankofa Film Festival on Oct. 15.

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Filmmakers Renee Sotile, Mary Jo Godges.

Dressed in form-fitting tights and a tank top, Nona Hendryx dips and high-kicks through her set. But her onstage presence is even more impressive because she’s been doing this since the 1960s.

Hendryx shot to fame in 1974 as part of the group Labelle (with Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash), when their cover of “Lady Marmalade” hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart. (The song hit No. 1 again in 2001, when recorded by Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Pink, and rapper Lil’ Kim for the “Moulin Rouge!” film soundtrack.) After Labelle, Hendryx continued with a successful solo career, writing her own songs, including the gender-themed Transformation, a song ahead of its time.

“I first heard Nona Hendryx when I dropped the needle on her new album “Nona,”–yes, we’re talking vinyl,” said Mary Jo Godges, in parlance befitting a former radio station music director. “I was instantly in awe how such a big sound could be coming through that little stylus.”

Godges would preview music for her LA radio station, KNAC, as well as for clubs around the Southland. Hendryx’s “powerful gender fluid lyrics” struck a chord with Godges, inspiring her to “crank it loud,” she says.

“Finally, someone was singing to us! We knew we were the underground subculture, but she gave us a voice–and what a voice, with a big funked-out and rock dance-floor groove.” 

“I’m all pop,” says Sotile, a two-time Emmy winner for her work as an L.A. video-journalist, who also has fond musical memories of Hendryx. “I had the soundtrack from the film ‘Perfect’ because I loved the song ‘I Sweat.’ It was so exciting to see her singing it live, even all these years later.”

The audience at the Palm Springs show felt the energy, Sotile says, and some were “jumping onstage to dance with her.”

It was that emotional response, coupled with a frank, funny and fabulous red carpet interview that the singer did with the filmmakers, that persuaded them to cut a short film.

“’#NonaHendryx Transformation’ was a fun film to make,” Sotile says. “We are proud of how it turned out.”

“Watching her perform in Palm Springs took me right back, like no time had passed,” added Godges. “She’s a force–dynamic and powerful.”  

The response to the film thus far, including a screening this past weekend at the Palm Springs LGBT Film Festival, where it won both the Audience and Director awards, has been encouraging the filmmakers to consider a full-length feature. Hendryx does come from a legendary musical family–her late cousin was Jimi Hendrix (she changed the spelling of her last name). She was among the first celebrity AIDS activists, and she’s spent more than 40 years in an interracial relationship with another woman, who happened to be Dusty Springfield’s manager. 

Needless to say, “#NonaHendryx Transformation,” is leaving audiences wanting more.

“NonaHendryx Transformation” screens at noon on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Laemmle NoHo7, as part of the Creative Life Documentary Program, along with “Fosse: Recreated,” and “It’s Always About the Story: Conversations With Alan Ladd Jr.”

Click here for more information or tickets to the Valley Film Festival.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications.
As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections.
Laurie Schenden’s international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages.
Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and is currently producing a documentary for her own company, Saving Grace Films.

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