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DIFF Preview: Two North Texans Hope Their Documentary Keeps Karen Carpenter’s Voice Alive

The eight-day Dallas International Film Festival, which starts Friday, features some high-profile premieres and several projects with local ties.
By Todd Jorgenson |
A new documentary screening at DIFF brings Karen Carpenter’s tragic story close to you. AMS Pictures

He was born after their early-1970s heyday, but it didn’t take Randy Schmidt long to catch up with the Carpenters.

Schmidt, now an elementary school music teacher in Denton, remembers being entranced as a teenager by the posthumous 1989 made-for-television movie The Karen Carpenter Story.

“I fell in love with Karen’s voice and her story, all in that two-hour broadcast,” he said. “It was really eye-opening.”

Schmidt has since become one of the foremost authorities on the late singer, authoring an acclaimed 2010 biography and helping to spearhead the new documentary Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection, which chronicles her life and career. The film will screen twice this weekend as part of the annual Dallas International Film Festival, which starts on Friday primarily at the new Violet Crown Dallas theater in the West Village.

The project comes from Dallas-based AMS Pictures, whose founder Andy Streitfeld met Schmidt about six years ago. It turns out he was a Carpenters fan, too, and even shared an elevator briefly with the sibling duo as a tongue-tied college student.

“Randy and I have so much love and passion for Karen that we really wanted to do it right,” Streitfeld said. “There’s a whole generation of fans that has not heard the whole story.”

Directed by AMS showrunner Randy Martin, the film focuses on the rise, fall, and enduring popularity of Carpenter, who topped the charts with a series of iconic hits alongside brother Richard before dying from complications of anorexia in 1983.

The filmmakers wrapped up interviews with Carol Burnett, Suzanne Somers, the late Olivia Newton-John, and more just prior to the pandemic, then spent two years editing while securing archival footage and music rights. They unearthed hours of interview footage with Carpenter, much of it unaired, essentially enabling her to tell her own story.

“People had an incredible love for her, and they’ve had no way to connect with her since then. All of a sudden, all of that emotion comes back to them,” Streitfeld said. “The songs and the memories associated with them are so meaningful to people. They kind of provided the soundtrack to the 70s in a lot of ways.”

Still, Schmidt hopes the documentary’s appeal can extend beyond nostalgia and prompt a new generation of fans to grow Carpenter’s legacy.

“The music has such a timeless quality to it that can appeal to just about any age and every generation,” Schmidt said. After debuting at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in February, he hopes the film will find a distribution deal with a streaming service once its festival run concludes.

Meanwhile, the eight-day festival runs through May 5, with all screenings at the Violet Crown or at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. The robust lineup includes several features and short-film compilations with North Texas ties, including:

  • Breaking the Code — This short documentary traces the life and career of the late Fort Worth painter Vernon Fisher, who gained prominence during the 1980s exhibiting alongside Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. (5:30 p.m. Saturday)
  • A Disturbance in the Force — Directed by Richardson native and Napoleon Dynamite producer Jeremy Coon, this in-depth documentary revisits the cheesy and ill-fated 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special” variety show. (10 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Thursday)
  • Gibson Icons: Rex Brown of Pantera — Here’s another documentary, this one about the bassist for the venerable Arlington rock band, produced as part of a web series for Gibson Guitars. It examines Brown’s influence and legacy. (7 p.m. Saturday)
  • Into the Spotlight — A world premiere, this documentary follows a church-based Highland Park theater troupe comprised entirely of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities leading up to a production. (4 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Monday)
  • The Wild Man — The latest offbeat genre film from Denton filmmaker Riley Cusick, shot in the Dallas area, follows a man taking care of his father with a deteriorating mental condition who believes he’s a wild animal. (7 p.m. Wednesday and 4:30 p.m. Thursday)


Todd Jorgenson

Todd Jorgenson

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