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Jennifer Townsend Reviewing 1991 survey responses

Callie Khouri, Thelma & Louise and Me

Callie Khouri and I were called by the spirit of Thelma & Louise

For 25 years the spirit of “Thelma & Louise” haunted me. I was mesmerized by the film when it came out in 1991. So much so that I was compelled to gather reactions from viewers around the country. In pre-internet times, this took longer than one might imagine.

In 1992, I sidelined the project until some unknown time in the future. Twenty years later, that time came. I went to my storage locker and dug out a precious archive: a box of letters and responses to my 1991 survey. As I began sifting through it, I felt called to bring the light of day to what respondents and letter-writers had shared. I knew Thelma and Louise would not let me rest in peace until I did.

How best to respect the points of view and impressions shared in that box?

Why not find these people and invite them to directly express themselves, with their unique demeanors, nuances, and inflections? This would mean adding flesh and blood images to the words on the page by capturing their responses on camera.

But, here’s where things started to get difficult. I was not a filmmaker. I was a retiree, with no experience in filmmaking. I didn’t even own a video camera. Where to start? What to do? How to get there? The answer became ‘inch, by inch.’ I did some research, bought a camera, and started making short, interview-type films that had nothing whatsoever to do with “Thelma & Louise.”

After three years of getting my feet wet, I was in a ‘now or never’ situation. I was 75 years old and time was fleeting. The project needed to be made. But it terrified me. I awoke many times in the middle of the night in dread and fear. How could I manage to get all the pieces together to make a feature film? No matter how much my tortured mind protested, the siren call of Thelma and Louise would not let go. 

Callie Khouri photo by Amy Dickerson

Callie Khouri, Photo by Amy DIckerson, copied from http://www.watkins.edu/

And this brings me to Callie Khouri, the much-honored screenwriter of “Thelma & Louise.”

During an interview at the Austin Film Festival, Callie said that the idea for the film came to her all at once. ‘With “Thelma & Louise,” I was called to it the whole thing came at once like getting punched in the heart.’

There it was – she didn’t have a choice either. Callie knew nothing about screenwriting at the time: ‘I had never written anything before and I didn’t know how to do it. … I had this responsibility to get it on paper. It consumed me.’ Like me, Callie Khouri also wondered how she would do it. She, too, woke up in the middle of the night with the siren call of Thelma and Louise driving through her consciousness. 

I know exactly what Callie is talking about because we had parallel experiences – 25 years apart.