BOOMAW is a southern gothic documentary that follows Dreama Wardell as she reenacts strange fantasies from her past and bakes cookies for the crew. Dreama Gay Love Wardell sees lizards on the wall and believes her daughter is trying to kill her. Neither of these are true. But Wardell – known to the people around her as Boomaw – believes they are.
Boomaw exists in a world that’s half-true and half-false, fueled by her paranoid schizophrenia. It’s a world that’s existed for at least 50 years – and a world which persists because of Boomaw’s Texan stubbornness. Nothing is wrong with her.
Much of the film will feature 1970s set design and music – putting Boomaw into an environment that will stimulate her memories. The set itself will be in her house – a suburban home she believes she’ll be kicked out of because the rent rises every month.
Boomaw hides behind modern conveniences to escape her past: Jars of night cream that cost $300. A $2,000 ring and bracelet set. And an overpriced $700 ceramic pigeon with a note in it for her granddaughter, only to be read when Boomaw dies.
This is a story about the family that moves in and out of Boomaw’s mental twilight: Stacy, her first-born who she claims to love but not really love and who she believes spread poisonous black dust in her house in an effort to kill her. Elizabeth, her second daughter, whose role seems to be to be trapped between her mother and her sister. There are not truths in Boomaw’s world -- just differing accounts of stories.
And the stories: Of being raped by a bartender when she was four and her father killing the bartender. Of abuse by her first husband.
But only sunshine comes out of Boomaw’s mouth: Every memory of the past is positive. The bad memories come from Stacy and Elizabeth – who may have their own motives in the story’s they tell.
This is a film about how people experience truths that are often painful. Does Boomaw really believe everything she is saying? What do Stacy and Elizabeth know – and what do they want the audience to know? At its heart, the film looks at how a family sees truth.
My mom calls me and tells me one thing. Boomaw calls and tells me another. In December, I went and visited Boomaw. I was raiding her closet and found this bag, this vintage Gucci bag. A plush burgundy doeskin suede designed with an ornate sterling silver twin tiger head clasp. I hesitantly handed it to her and it's like it transported her back in time. She started talking in a way I'd never heard, about things she'd never said.
I got to thinking 'If a bag could do that, could be that sort of stimulus, what if I put her in a replica of the 1970s house, in 1970s clothes? What if I put my mom and my aunt in that same setting? What stories would come out?
In the brain, memories are inextricably tied to place, that’s why it’s no coincidence that, when recalling a tragedy, we ask where someone was: “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” Psychologists hypothesize that we lock in that memory by linking it to a where, that integrating many stimuli together helps us remember something important. This process is called episodic memory formation.
I am a cultural anthropology minor with an emphasis in communication, and I want this film to accurately portray the complicated idea of truth. In the 1970s, French social theorist Michel Foucault stated there is no such thing as “one truth” and that it depends how a society defines it. In his first book, Mental Illness and Personality, he presented his theory that illness was culturally relative. I think the film will inevitably model his ideas of mental illness and personality.
This isn’t just about Boomaw. It’s about if abuse connects to mental illness. It’s about a southern grandmother and her daughters and all of their complicated relationships with the truth. It’s about the link between memory and place. So it’s about Boomaw. But I bet there are lots of Boomaw’s telling the truth at a slant.
The film will take the audience on a trip into the past and reveal that Boomaw may not be as “crazy” as everyone believes. Password: BOOMAW