Greenfield native’s documentary shown at Tribeca Film Festival

  • Galen Summer, a Greenfield native living in Brooklyn, N.Y., completed a 40-minute short called “Sidelined” that premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Contributed image

  • Galen Summer, a Greenfield native living in Brooklyn, N.Y., completed a 40-minute short called “Sidelined” that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Contributed image

  • Galen Summer’s film, “Sidelined,” is about the 1978 scandal involving dozens of pro-football cheerleaders who were fired after posing nude in Playboy magazine, though they were encouraged by team managers. Contributed image

  • The San Diego Chargerettes in a scene from Galen Summer’s film, “Sidelined.” Contributed image

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Galen Summer set his lens on ultimate Frisbee teams at the Greenfield swimming area for his first “documentary” as a budding filmmaker back in the 1980s, after he’d taken his first classes at age 12 or 13 at Greenfield Community Television with his father, Brian Summer.

Summer, who had moved to Greenfield when he was 2 or 3, fondly recalls those days with his father and mother, Connie Sumberg, as a student at the Greenfield Center School and then Northfield Mount Hermon School, graduating in 1999.

“When I was pretty young, I did a lot of claymation videos,” said the filmmaker, who’s now 37. “They were 30-minute things I’d do with friends: a lot of claymation and kung fu, music videos, almost like a variety show.”

He went on to “covering” the Franklin County Fair for GCTV as part of the camera crew.

Summer, who studied film at Boston University, recently completed his longest documentary to date, a 40-minute short that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.

“Sidelined” tells about the 1978 scandal involving dozens of pro-football cheerleaders who were fired for posing nude in Playboy magazine after being encouraged to do so by team managers.

The film, which uses archival footage from the ’70s as well as interviews with the cheerleaders today — most of whom are in their ‘60s — questions the hypocrisy of the National Football League in demanding that the mostly volunteer cheerleaders maintain a wholesome image while clearly favoring scantily clad entertainment at their games.

Summer, who moved from Colorado to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2006, helped co-found Public Record, a Brooklyn-based production company. There, he directed an eight-minute short called “Lessons From a Tailor” about Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield, who learned the art of tailoring while in a concentration camp.

After immigrating to Brooklyn in 1947, he was hired by a men’s clothier and rose from a teenage “floorboy” to tailoring custom suits for presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton, and other celebrities and heads of state.

Greenfield, who bought the company in the 1970s, says in the film, “Everybody is a perfect person. There are no two people alike that you meet in your lifetime that are perfectly matched. Even if they’re natural twins, you’ll find differences between them … I have to make you a suit to fit you.”

He tells the camera, “There isn’t a person who makes clothing in the world who wouldn’t give his right arm to be where I am … Maybe I live long because I work hard, I don’t know.”

Greenfield describes how he had invested in the “United Nations” of employees and in a community that was once so crime-ridden that his factory was broken into numerous times.

“Life changes,” he said. “A lot of it is for the better, some of it is not for the better. So I take these chances. You have to take chances in life.”

Sidetracked by ‘Sidelined’

Summer has also made short films for the New York City Ballet, as well as commercials and short dramatic films. But in 2015, he stumbled on the idea for “Sidelined” while researching a possible film on a cult deprogrammer interviewed in the March 1979 Playboy magazine.

What caught his attention was “The Cheerleaders Who Were Too Hot for the NFL,” a followup to the “Sex on the Sidelines” pictorial four months earlier that got about 50 cheerleaders “caught in a trap,” as one woman in his documentary puts it.

“I found the story completely by chance,” Summer said of his roughly year-and-a-half-long project, which he said will be screened on the Lifetime and A&E channels later this year. “I hadn’t spent that much time thinking about cheerleaders or who they were. I didn’t know anything about how they were treated and not paid well. I started reading and was surprised I’d never heard about this, though it had been a big thing at the time.”

Summer began searching on the internet to see if he could find any of the women from the Chicago Honeybears and the San Diego Chargerettes to ask if they’d be interested in talking about what had happened.

“I was able to track them down,” he said. Nearly four decades after their firing, “they were all (talking) like it happened yesterday. It was very fresh in their minds how upset they had been and the details of the firing. I knew if I get someone on the phone and they can’t stop talking like this, it will be really good for an interview. They were very enthusiastic.”

Despite finding four Chargerettes, there were plenty of dead ends for Summer, who got a letter back from one woman who said she found it hysterical that he’d mistakenly thought she had ever been in Playboy.

“Thanks for making my day,” she wrote.

Some of the former cheerleaders refused to be interviewed, saying they wanted to put the incident far behind them. Yet others welcomed the chance to set the record straight and convey how poorly they’d been treated.

“We were expendable,” one woman says in the film. “There wasn’t any consideration of us as people. We were just the cheerleaders.”

In a vintage TV interview, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner puffs his pipe and comments, “There’s really no difference between somebody who dresses very provocatively for whatever sexual impact that may have on a date, or as a cheerleader or posing nude. It’s all pretty much the same thing, isnt it?”

Summer said the entire Chargerettes team was fired, including those women who didn’t pose for the magazine, even though they were not paid for their time rehearsing or cheerleading, had to buy their own uniforms and had no contract prohibiting them from doing photo shoots. In fact, the film points out that the teams agreed when Playboy first proposed the shoot and encouraged the cheerleaders to pose.

“I came away really having my eyes opened,” said Summer, whose film is dedicated to the Chargerettes “and all cheerleaders still fighting for equality.” It’s clearly sympathetic to the women, presenting them as victims of exploitation who saw cheerleading as an exciting sisterhood where they made real friendships.

“Sidelined” was well received at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the four former Chargerettes were flown out for the premiere and appeared at a Q&A press conference, he said.

“It was really an honor to be a part of that festival,” said Summer, who’s applying to have it screened at other festivals, in New England and elsewhere.

Summer, who also did editing and post-production work on “Sidelined,” spent about two years overall on the project, which included researching, tracking down archival footage and arranging for staged shots with actors to round out the images.

Some of the archival footage drew criticism that the documentary was a vehicle for the kind of “honeyshots” of the cheerleaders that TV cameramen were encouraged to include in their football games.

The documentary — which also shows Andy Sidaris of ABC’s Monday Night Football saying, “You’ve got to show some girls, and occasionally get a football play in there” — turned those archival honeyshots around by the film’s end to show the hypocrisy of how the women were used and misused by promoters.

“For me,” he said, “I just wanted to put the story out there and let audiences draw their own conclusion: Are they being exploited, and if so by who, and in what way? Or were they being empowered by the decision to make the Playboy photoshoot? I don’t want to have final say. You can make your own conclusion.”

To view “Lessons From a Tailor,” visit: bit.ly/2IuIe6a.

Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at the Greenfield Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.