She’s the queen of Montana Avenue. A vivacious dancer. A wise philosopher. But anyone who has lived nearly a century certainly has something of worth to say. She is Queen Mimi, and she also spent thirty years being homeless. We are introduced to Mimi by actor and filmmaker Yaniv Rokah, who initially got to know her during his early morning commute to work. “I’d get up at 5am to open the coffee shop,” Rokah says. “There was no one on the street except for Mimi, who was also starting her day.”
Now the documentary Queen Mimi is slated to screen at the Sarasota Film Festival.
He found out she was living and working for tips in the laundromat across from the coffee shop. She became a customer, exchanging clean coffee rags for coffee. Drawn to her vibrant personality, Rokah wanted to know more. “The more I learned about her, the bigger the mystery got,” he says. “Finally, I just wanted to learn the whole story.” Rokah didn’t originally set out to make a feature-length documentary. As Mimi’s story unfolded, so did the nature of the film. “The subject of your documentary takes you on a journey,” he says about directing his first feature. “What I learned is that you kind of have to go on that without a plan. I didn’t know where I was going.”
That journey evolved into following and interviewing Mimi over the course of five years. We see charmingly intimate sketches of her interactions with customers at the laundromat: ”How many ladies in their late 80s love singing and dancing, and always love to laugh and make jokes and be sexy and funny?” We also hear about her hardships living as a homeless woman, and the troubles she faced before homelessness, as a woman who took a stand against her husband’s adultery. She lost her home after her divorce, living in her car, before ending up on the streets of Santa Monica, California, all the while keeping a tight grip on her dignity. But her resistance is recognized as resilience. For Mimi, that means finding any way you can to move forward: “Yesterday is gone. Leave it there.”
According to Rokah, the film is also about the “amazing community in Santa Monica and how everyone chose to see who and what is around them, reaching out to Mimi on a personal level.Through the generosity of actor Zach Galifinakis, who she befriended pre-Hangover fame and who offers understatedly humorous interviews in the film, she finally got a her own place to call home, a small apartment with a view of the laundromat.
The biggest roadblock Rokah encountered along the Mimi journey was trying to get her to speak more candidly about her past: “Why not revisit the past sometimes? She slowly started revealing more and more. I keep joking she is the director of the film not me. In many parts she is. I didn’t want to hurt her or our relationship. We had to keep a lot of things out of the film but I think it was a fair balance of my wishes and hers.”
Although we learn more about her history, some of it is left a mystery. What has unraveled are the beautiful fragments of a complex individual, one of the many we may encounter on the streets.
Queen Mimi will screen at the Regal Hollywood 20 on Saturday, April 11, at 7:45pm, and again on Sunday, April 19, at 1:30pm.