How did you find out about the pageant?
I saw a profile of Abbey [Curran] in People Magazine when she was Miss Iowa. It was a two-page spread, and at the bottom of the second page, there was a picture of her at the pageant. I saw all these girls, smiling and beaming, and the hair went up on my arms. I thought, "There's a movie here. There's a story behind this much happiness." So I sought her out. I did some research, called the school and within 10 minutes they gave me her home address and phone number. It's surprisingly easy to get in touch with Miss Iowa.
And Abbey started the pageant before she even became Miss Iowa.
Most people are going to assume that she did it for a platform. But she didn't - she was a high school girl, losing and losing. Another girl with more severe cerebral palsy said, "I wish I could do pageants like you. My mom won't let me because she's afraid people will make fun of me." Abbey thought that was crazy. So she made a bet with her hairdresser - if she won, they'd start something for the girls. She went to her next pageant and she didn't win, but they said, "Let's do it anyway." She was just a local girl who wanted other girls to feel the same way. She wasn't Miss Iowa with a platform - she hadn't won anything yet.
Did you have any concerns about the kiddie pageant setting?
When people asked about my next film and I said, "It's a pageant for girls with disabilities," everybody cringed. Everybody thought: JonBenét in a wheel chair. And I did not want to do that. My interest was that picture of Abbey and getting chills - could I recreate that?
Does a response like that drive you to dispel preconceptions?
Absolutely. My first movie was dismissing preconceptions with drag queens. Everyone has a preconceived notion about pageants. Everyone comes to the table with notions about people with disabilities. Notions meaning fear. How do you talk to them, what do you say? When I flew to Iowa, I wanted to hear about their experiences and why they do it. The intentions from all the people involved were so pure, I felt like I hit the jackpot.