Jane Anderson and Michelle Boyaner talk “Packed in a Trunk” and new projects

Having considered Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson one of the best queer documentaries of 2015, I’m thrilled to have been able to chat recently with director Michelle Boyaner and her co-writer and star of the movie, Jane Anderson (If These Walls Could Talk 2, Normal). These out filmmakers and friends have CVs that speak for themselves, but I was happy to chat with them about Jane’s also gay great-aunt Edith.

Leading up to the film’s release on DVD and VOD by Wolfe Video, we spoke about Edith, the filmmaking process, what’s happened since the film’s initial release and what big projects are ahead for them both.

Poster PACKED IN A TRUNK - Courtesy of Wolfe Videoimages via Wolfe Video

Warning: Spoilers ahead

AfterEllen.com: Jane, most people don’t know who Edith Lake Wilkinson was. Hopefully they’ll watch the movie and that will change. But tell us, who was this woman and why is she so special?

Jane Anderson: Edith was a young post-Victorian woman who had the courage and the ambition to leave her town in Wheeling, West Virginia and venture out on her own in 1889 when young women didn’t do such a thing. She got herself to New York City and studied with great art teachers. At a time when most young women were still tied to either their family homes or getting married and then tied to their husbands, Edith was unique at that time for having gone out on her own. She was a pre-liberation woman.

What else makes her unique is that she was a really gifted artist. Not only technically, but once she discovered the Provincetown art scene, her palette, her vision, her style became really unique. As an artist, she distinguished herself as having her own particular style. Fortunately, now she’s being recognized by the art community as an important contributor of the Provincetown scene at that time. Tragically, she was put away before she could continue on with exploring her art. She might’ve gone into other styles–Cubism or Expressionism. But her artistic life was cut short, and that’s why I’ve always felt this need to bring her work back out and share it with the public and the art community.


AE: What was it about her story that told you, “It’s not enough to just share her story.” Through an article, or even through a short video. You had to bring her back to Provincetown. Why was that so important to you?

JA: How do you revive a life? How do you save a person’s legacy? And, really, the best way that I found was to make a documentary. That’s when my spouse Tess [Ayers] and I approached Michelle and her partner, Barb [Green], who’s our wonderful cinematographer. And by partnering with them and going to Provincetown under Michelle’s fabulous direction and Michelle creating the narrative, that’s how we got her known. That was my initial intent, to revive Edith’s reputation, but then because Michelle created such a beautiful film, it’s a wonderful doc in its own right. So it’s one art form meeting the other.

Tess Ayers (left), Jane Anderson (center) and Raphael Anderson-Ayers (right) in PACKED IN A TRUNK - Courtesy of Wolfe Video

AE: Michelle, how did you get involved in this project with Jane?

Michelle Boyaner: I was in no way educated about art. What drew me to Edith’s story was I had heard–I saw the paintings for years hanging in Jane and Tess’ home. We were personal friends with Jane and Tess for almost 20 years. I had seen the artwork in the background and I knew Jane was also an incredible artist and I didn’t know what artwork was Jane’s, what artwork was her great-aunt’s, anything. And then Jane several years ago had a website built that kind of told Edith’s story–gave a chronology of the events in Edith’s life. She really wanted to get the facts about Edith out into the world because, again, it was about creating this legacy of this lost artist. Something that has stuck with us throughout this whole filmmaking process was this kind of theme of “Here’s to being seen.” We wanted Edith to be seen. She was hidden away. She was snatched from her life and her artwork. Everything was hidden.

So when Jane and Tess came to us and said, “Would you guys be interested in making a documentary about my great-aunt Edith?” we, of course, loved the idea of working with them, but what felt compelling to me was to create a story where we were following Jane and Tess while they tried to find out the answers to all these unknown things that were hanging out there. “What happened to Edith? When was she in Provincetown? What did she do there? Who knew her? Why wasn’t she a part of the known history there? Why was she put away?” You know, how did that all happen? So the idea that really compelled me to want to do this was if they would be willing to let us follow them and create a journey of the two of them trying to unlock the mystery. So that rather than just a straightforward, academic documentary about a lost artist, we made kind of a mystery–a road trip film that mixed their desire for redemption for Edith with the history.