The Rapidian

Grand Rapids filmmaker returns home for Pride weekend

Wendy Jo Carlton came to Grand Rapids to participate in the Parade of Pride and promote her new web series.
Parade of Pride Committee member Nancy Gallardo (right) invited producer Wendy Jo Carlton (left) to participate in the parade.

Parade of Pride Committee member Nancy Gallardo (right) invited producer Wendy Jo Carlton (left) to participate in the parade. /Courtesy of Wendy Jo Carlton

Grand Rapidians welcomed writer, director and producer Wendy Jo Carlton back home for the first Parade of Pride. She is known for her award-winning feature films "Hannah Free" and "Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together," among other short films.

"I grew up in Grand Rapids, came out in Grand Rapids, first fell in love with a woman while I was still in Grand Rapids," says Carlton. "I'm honored to be asked to be a part of [Parade of Pride]. It is meaningful to me because of my history with the community in the city."

Parade of Pride Committee member Nancy Gallardo extended the invitation to Carlton.

"[Carlton] makes us all very proud, in the LGBT community and the arts community," says Gallardo. "I really appreciate her time and effort and her kindness. And the fact that she hasn't forgotten where she came from. Grand Rapids can be a good basis for the arts and education and expression."

Carlton, who grew up on the West side and graduated from Grand Valley State University, began her career as a producer and director at the Grand Rapids community television station GRTV, a part of the Community Media Center. While at GRTV she directed the weekly shows "The Electric Church" and "Something Else" for three years.

From the time she was growing up in Grand Rapids to now, Carlton says she has seen progress in the representation of the LGBT community and straight allies.

"Grand Rapids has come a long way in terms of organizations, knowledge, activities, political activism and follow-through," says Carlton.

She left Grand Rapids for Seattle and later moved to Chicago, where she currently lives. Although she no longer lives in Grand Rapids, Carlton continues to stay involved with her hometown. She returned to Grand Rapids in 2010 to present her first feature-length film "Hannah Free" at Wealthy Theatre for Queeries, a monthly film series.

She founded the "Chicks Make Flicks" program in partnership with the ArtWorks program at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. The media literacy program was offered to girls ages 13-18 from Grand Rapids Public Schools. It was offered for two summers and was unable to continue due to funding.

"I would love to actually bring it back to Michigan or my vision has always been to take it on the road in an RV, and go to different cities and have young women sign up ahead of time and teach them the tools to tell their own stories in their own way," says Carlton.

This time, Carlton was back in Michigan at the Parade of Pride with her cast members promoting her web series "Easy Abby," which recently ended its first season. Promotional posters and t-shirts were handed out during the parade. The first 12 episodes of the season can be watched on iTunes. The season finale can be watched online for $3.

Carlton is currently writing the second season of "Easy Abby" and will begin filming in September. Instead of producing a third season for the web series, she will produce a feature film that takes Abby, the main character, on a road trip through Michigan. She hopes to film the majority of the film in her home state.

"I'm always attracted to Lake Michigan. There's something about Lake Michigan that is a little bit like church to me," says Carlton. "That's why in 'Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together' the lake is featured pretty prominently."

Carlton notes that her work is not about being queer.

"It's really more about love, transcendence, friendship, issues of mental health and communication. All the stuff that's really human and most people can relate to," says Carlton. "It’s what I understand because it's the life I've been living. You write what you know."

She hopes to see a cultural and artistic push of boundaries in Grand Rapids and other cities.

"You can use creativity and the arts as a way to bring stories of humanity and equality to mainstream, so they're more accessible and not as confrontational," says Carlton. "Humor, comedy, art and theater can help greatly to do that."

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