It’s hard to talk Sarasota without talking about its deep roots in the circus, and one of this year’s documentaries set to show at the Sarasota Film Festival fits perfectly with this motif. GreasePaint explores the world of an American circus clown, Joey Thurmond, or Nojoe, and his family as they perform in their traveling circus. The director, Daniel Espeut, made sure to go along for the ride and expose audiences to a world otherwise unknown to many.
Thurmond’s transition into a career of juggling and jokes was an unusual one; as a former professional pro-wrestler, he certainly had experience in the field of entertainment and the physicality required of a clown. At some point in his wrestling career, Thurmond got injured so severely that the WCW (World Championship Wrestling) would not let him enter another match, however, they did offer to pay for his education in whatever field he chose. Thurmond decided to train to become an Atlanta Area Police Officer and served for 15 years.
Though it was a steady job, Thurmond grew tired of it and the demand it placed on him; when he and his wife, Jamie, visited Sarasota on their honeymoon he found his “calling” at the Ringling Circus Museum. Almost immediately after, Thurmond began to practice certain clowning skillsets and discovered his natural talent. At first, he offered his services free of charge, but when the requests started pouring in, he decided to set a rate. So, as a cop-by-day and clown-by-night, Thurmond would spend the work-week in his police uniform and his weekend in face paint.
Eventually, the demand for Nojoe became so high that Jamie encouraged him to quit the force and focus fully on furthering his circus career. When Espeut met and befriended him, Thurmond was already off the force and was giving his full-time to clowning, and Espeut offered his services as Ring Master for a show. Aside from working all angles of the film industry, Espeut also DJ’s giving him ample credentials for the gig. After performing along side of each other, Espeut realized that Thurmond, and his familly, would be great subjects for a documentary.
Taking a huge gamble, Thurmond poured all his money into his new career, his life savings and his pension, until they were left with merely $85 in their pockets. At this point the married couple had a 17 year-old son, Tyler, making this risk even heftier. With this investment Thurmond and Jamie purchased a 53ft. trailer and took their circus on the road. Like his father, Tyler decided to dawn his own red nose and go by the name Toot. The last piece of the act was another clown, a fifth generation circus performer from Columbia, Herman Colonia.
So, Espeut travelled with the Thurmonds and filmed nearly every minute leaving him with more than 700 hours of footage to edit which took him a year post-filming to complete. It was important for Espeut to have a completely authentic insight into this family’s world and refused to include any staging in his film.
In addition to the Thurmond’s narrative, Espeut was fascinated by the public’s wide-spread fear of clowns. Espeut had discussed this in length with Thurmond but wanted to gather more opinions from other clowns and particularly reputable clowns. In the film you’ll see interviews with all the top-name circus clowns, including daughter of legendary clown Lou Jacobs–Dolly Jacobs, on their thoughts on what may be driving this long-lived anxiety. Paired with historical material on the evolution of the circus clown and the industry, this documentary tells one man’s story while putting it in context with a greater scope.
To catch a glimpse of the fun head to the Regal Hollywood 20 for a 6:30pm screening of GreasePaint, where the director, David Espeut will be in attendance.