At a time when Marilyn Monroe was the poster child for all things sexy in Hollywood, there emerged another woman – a close friend of Marilyn Monroe – who was to become the Queen of Burlesque. Annie Blanche Banks, better known as Tempest Storm, left her humble beginnings in Eastman, Georgia to launch a successful career in Hollywood and Las Vegas that has spanned nearly a century.
Tempest Storm was and still is a sight to behold but in spite of her outward beauty which undoubtedly was the envy of most women of her time, she lived a not-so-sensational personal life which she kept very private until now.
Director Nimisha Mukerji goes beyond the sexual stereotypes to explore the obscure personal life of this burlesque superstar. Nimisha’s latest documentary explores the pain and triumphs of Tempest Storm in her own words.
Nimisha, I know that you are a very busy woman but I want to thank you for taking the time to allow Reel Focus readers to learn more about you and your latest film project. First, tell our readers more about your background and how you became a film director.
Growing up my mom loved watching movies and she was a fan of every genre, from foreign films to westerns. I think her passion for films is one of the reasons I was so drawn to making them. In high school I volunteered at a local cable station as a camera operator and I took a lot of theatre classes, so I really started out directing small, one act plays as a teenager. I did my undergrad at the University of British Columbia but it wasn’t until my second year that I stumbled on the film program and realized I could take production classes as an elective. At the end of the year students were able to apply for a major in film production (which was a two year course where they only accepted 15 students). While I got shortlisted the first time I applied, I didn’t give up and went back the following year and got in. I often joke my first experience with film was rejection, and it taught me early on you can’t take no for an answer if you want to have a career in directing.
What sparked your interest in doing a biography on exotic dancer, Tempest Storm?
I was immediately drawn to the story of Tempest because she is indisputably the last great surviving burlesque performer from her era, and she’s also a very private person, which I found quite surprising. Tempest is a funny, charming woman, who has given countless interviews with the press. But I wanted to get past the usual questions and answers and delve deeper into her experience to get a better sense of what her life is like today. As it turns out, becoming a star involves a lot of sacrifice and loneliness, and Tempest was very honest about this side of the industry. She was willing to show us both the glamour and the grit involved in becoming an independent, working woman, who started out in the 50s and remains an icon to this day.
How well has your biography been received thus far?
We’ve had a fantastic reception at festivals, especially from female audiences, and thankfully Tempest has been able to attend many of our screenings. At our world premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto we were voted in the top 20 of the festival by audiences, we were also selected as the international spotlight film at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Arkansas, and in Georgia we recently won Best Documentary Feature at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival and Best Director at Atlanta Docufest. These last two screenings and awards meant a lot to us since Georgia is Tempest’s home state and we filmed parts of the film in Eastman and Waycross.
What’s in the works for you in the near future?
I’ve been directing for television this past year and had the opportunity to work with DisneyXD and Amazon which has been really fun. It’s great to collaborate with actors and work with visual effects! It’s also been a nice change to have a script! I’ve spent the past ten years making feature documentaries where the story is constantly evolving. I’m looking forward to developing a feature script based on a novel as well as a half hour comedy series that I’m been thinking about for a long time. While I love working as a director I think the best way to move the needle forward for women is to keep creating content that features our own stories and voices. I’m excited to keep directing and writing for both narrative films and documentaries.