A Carny's Transient Life Revealed -- in Film Showing Saturday



Among the myriad cinema options this weekend, consider one interesting local connection for the documentary Carny -- Kirkwood native Virginia Lee Hunter is the director of photography. The 75-minute Saturday matinee screening at the Tivoli is the culmination or a lot of hard work, and angling by Hunter.

And that’s not all folks!

The film is based on Hunter's photography book Carny: Americana on the Runway, which follows the lives of carnival workers as they navigate the ups and downs of a transient existence. Recent reviews of the film have been generally positive.

Hunter, a professional photographer who has spent 20 years working in Los Angeles, now lives in the Southwest Garden neighborhood and teaches photography classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.


Though the Canadian filmmaker Alison Murray directs the documentary, Hunter says she decided to track Murray down and convince her to make the film when she realized the limitations of her preferred medium.

"In 2001, when I had gone out again to work on the carnival project, I thought this really needs to be a film," she said. "With all the motion, commotion and audio flair I thought how can I convey the life with just (photo) stills?"

Carny is shot with Super 8 millimeter film, which lends a certain grainy or diluted light to the viewing.

"I've used Super 8 before and loved it," Murray said in an interview. "I knew this was a last opportunity to shoot with a certain Kodak chrome stock as Kodak were stopping making it. I also felt it suited the nostalgic mood of the fair."

Outside St. Louis, the documentary has made the rounds at the Brooklyn International Film Festival, were it was awarded "Best Documentary." It also recently appeared on the Sundance Channel.

A carnival lover as a young girl -- "I always liked walking down the midway and being barked at" -- Hunter says she was moved to return to the stimulating setting, a place with so many teenage flirtations and wild rides, when she observed a group of teenage girls running around one summer evening. Her camera was in hand.

"She fell in love with it as a youngster," acknowledges her father Robert Hunter.

Indeed, when Kirkwood resident Sara Kramer heard about the project from her friend "Lee," it sounded familiar.

"I thought it would be a little bit of a blast from the past," she said.

But she will not be alone.

On Saturday, Kramer says she is bringing her two teenage sons to see the film.

Carny runs 75 minutes and shows at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Boulevard.

- Matt Kasper


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