The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Macartney’s sharpshooting film premieres at Oak Cliff festival

Macartney teaches film in Meadows. (Courtesy of SMU)

Professor Carolyn Macartney is a sharpshooter. Of film, that is. But her new documentary, “Wanda the Wonderful,” features a woman whose real gun brought her renown, and with it, trouble.

Premiering at the Oak Cliff Film Festival in Dallas on June 22, Wanda the Wonderful tells the story of a 1920s stuntwoman and actress in the Wild West. Under the stage name “Wanda Savage,” she traveled the country, performing and picking up husbands and children along the way.

“She had four husbands, but only shot one of them,” reads the film’s tagline. And that injured final husband just happens to be Professor Macartney’s grandfather.

“People didn’t talk very much about her once she shot Grandpa. He married someone else and it wasn’t very cool to talk about Wanda,” Macartney said.

She began to talk to family members and relatives as early as 1991, when she was in film school searching for more information about Wanda’s complicated past.

Cousins, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren all sat for interviews for Macartney’s film, sharing the fantastic but true stories they had heard about Wanda while growing up.

“Everyone has their stories, they change depending on how close that person is to Wanda. The closer people are, the less they’ll tell you, the further people get, the more they share, but it’s fuzzier,” she said.

Working on the film steadily for the past seven years, Macartney mixed these interviews with scripted re-enactments, showing Wanda’s relationship with her children, her sharpshooting vaudeville act and her tumultuous marriage with Carl, Macartney’s grandfather.

“What I really wanted to avoid is just a bunch of talking heads. I hate those movies,” she said. “I wrote [the re-enactment] based on all the research and the documents she left behind to follow her trajectory.”

The letters, documents, photographs (many of which Wanda took herself) and certificates that the famed sharpshooter left behind were clues along Wanda’s confusing past.

The documents and interviews formed the foundation for Macartney’s documentary, but there’s still one question that is left unanswered.

“I would ask her if she had fun. She had a lot of trouble, but I want to know it was all worth it,” Macartney said of the chance to speak with her grandmother who passed away in 1947.

Not everyone in Macartney’s family was ready to tell all about the complex woman.

“Some people I would talk to and when they would be interviewing on camera, they would only say happy stuff,” she said. “I tried to tell the truth and not pass judgment but… it’s not much of a story if there isn’t a little drama.”

Filmed in Dallas, Wyoming and relatives’ homes, the documentary featured help from more than 30 SMU alumni and some of Macartney’s former students. The professor, who teaches production and experimental film classes, hopes her current students can be inspired, not only by Wanda’s story, but inspired to tell their own story.

“I think that having a teacher who still makes movies adds a unique perspective to the way they teach,” senior film major Daniel Pappas said. “They’re more inclined to teach us practical things instead of just theories.”

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