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NEW YORK — Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie, didn’t travel in elite social circles even though they were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. They didn’t wear expensive clothes; artfully wrapped towels worn as hats and dresses were their signatures. Yet Big Edie and Little Edie, as they were known, have long been a source of inspiration for designers, filmmakers and other creative types.
Liliana Greenfield-Sanders, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Little Edie, became smitten by the Beales after seeing “Grey Gardens,” the 1976 documentary by Albert and David Maysles about the eccentric and reclusive mother and daughter who lived in a squalid mansion in East Hampton, N.Y.
“I couldn’t really get the film out of my head,” says Greenfield-Sanders, whose homage to “Grey Gardens,” a documentary entitled “Ghosts of Grey Gardens,” makes its debut tonight at 9 p.m. at the Tribeca Film Festival. “They’re amazing on so many levels. They’re so untouched by society and external influences. They’re these truly unique voices. That’s why they’re so influential in the fashion sense.”
Greenfield-Sanders saw the film in summer 2001 before her junior year at Brown University. Her schoolwork that year revolved around the Beale mother and daughter, who shared their decaying home with raccoons and way too many cats. “I painted Edie’s portrait in my painting class,” she says. “In my writing class, I wrote a play based on ‘Grey Gardens.’”
The play was reimagined as a performance art piece, which Greenfield-Sanders staged at Crazy Space in Santa Monica, Calif., with her friend, Johanna Went. “It was a freeing experience and I thought I had gotten the Beales out of my system,” she says.
“My documentary is very meta,” adds Greenfield-Sanders. “It’s a documentary about a documentary. It’s a strange hybrid of performance art footage mixed with ‘Grey Gardens’ footage, interviews and voice-overs.”
As a result of her project, she’s been asked by Maysles to view the more than 100 reels of unseen original footage shot in the making of “Grey Gardens.” She may edit the footage for a possible future release.
“I could work on this project forever if I didn’t stop myself,” says Greenfield-Sanders, who lives with a painting of herself with the two Edies, a “Grey Gardens” poster in the living room and a cat, named Edie, of course. “I took my obsession and did something creative with it.”