It took “Judy Blume Forever” directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok close to two years to convince Judy Blume to be the subject of a documentary. Blume, the 84-year-old children’s and young adult literary juggernaut, lives a quiet life in Florida’s Key West, where she owns a bookstore. “I think she was unsure about entering this thing that she knew was going to be a huge time commitment where she would be opening herself up,” says Pardo. Eventually, the directing duo convinced Blume to sit in front of their cameras, where she discussed not only her career, but also the people and places who influenced her writing. Segments of those interviews, along with contemporary scenes from Blume’s life and interviews with writers and celebrities influenced by the author’s unfiltered portraits of childhood and adolescence, make up “Judy Blume Forever.” The 97-minute documentary doesn’t delve into each of the 29 books Blume published. Instead, Pardo and Wolchok focus on a handful of seminal titles, including “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “Blubber” and “Superfudge,” and the impact they made on millions of readers.
Amazon will release “Judy Blume Forever” later this year and it premieres at Sundance Jan. 21.
Whose idea was it to make a documentary about Judy Blume?
Pardo: I was a shy, bookworm kid who loved to read and loved Judy Blume, but I hadn’t thought a lot about her books as an adult. Then, five years ago, during a long road trip with my husband and kids, I decided to play (Blume’s) “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” and it was like this total visceral reaction of, “Oh my gosh! This book is so good.” Suddenly I was seeing Judy through fresh eyes, and I turned to my husband and said, “Whatever happened to Judy Blume?” And then it turned into a documentary filmmaker’s curiosity.
Blume wrote so many fantastic novels. How did you determine what books to concentrate on?
Wolchok: From the beginning, we had highlighted five or six books that we knew intersected with Judy’s personal story and key moments in her life, which in turn influenced each book’s themes and characters. So we wanted those books to take us on a journey from childhood through adolescence and then through late adolescence into adulthood.
The doc also features materials from Blume’s personal archive, including decades-long written correspondence with fans about divorce, masturbation, sibling rivalry and depression. Did you know from the get-go that you wanted to include the letters in the doc?
Pardo: After seeing the letters, it whet my appetite for including them and making them another character in the film.
Two of Blume’s fans appear in the docu and are courageous enough to share the letters they wrote to her. How did you convince them to do that?
Wolchok: Judy connected us to them. We could not reach out to anyone whose letters are read from the archives. That is a very strict protocol from Judy and Yale University, where the letters are kept.
Will Judy be in Park City?
Wolchok: She will be there virtually.
Pardo: She’s turning 85 in a few weeks, so I think the travel, the altitude and the crowds are too much right now. Also, she’s very COVID-cautious, as she should be.