Ventriloquism for Dummies

“Belly Talkers,” a highly-acclaimed documentary about ventriloquists and their art, will be screened on Tuesday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street. Directed by Sandra Luckow–professional ventriloquist, visiting instructor of film production, and Yale College graduate, 1987, – the film centers on a road trip across America that explores the people behind the dummies.

Ms. Luckow will introduce “Belly Talkers” and lead a discussion after each screening. Sponsors are the Film Study Center and Film Studies Program.

The film title alludes to the etymology of “ventriloquist” from Latin words for “stomach” and “speech.” Produced by Maude Chilton, Yale Class of 1987, and her sister, Eve Chilton, the film centers on a road trip exploring the personalities and purposes of an assortment of ventriloquists. Archival footage and interviews are mixed with cinema verite. Veteran entertainers Shari Lewis, Paul Winchell, David Copperfield, and Candice Bergen reminiscing about her father, Edgar, among others, discuss their work. At one point, Charlie McCarthy goes head-to-head with Miss Piggy.

One ventriloquist/psychologist uses his dummy in therapy sessions; another, with an evangelical bent, to spread the Gospel. The journey takes Luckow and her wooden comrade, Juanito, to the 21st International ConVENTion, a gathering of 400 “vents” from around the world.

“Belly Talkers” was shown at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, one of 14 documentaries chosen from 200 submissions, the USA Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, and the Northwest Film Center’s “Oddities, Enigmas, and Obsessions” series.

Ms. Luckow majored in Film Studies and American Studies at Yale, where her senior project, “Sharp Edges,” was a documentary on then-14-year-old Tonya Harding, a struggling young ice skater from Luckow’s home town. The film won Yale’s highest award in the performing and creative arts, the Louis Sudler Prize, and portions of it were used on “60 Minutes” in 1994.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325