"Everybody's gotta win a little bit of something..."
-- Neville, Blackpool's Queen of Drag
Filmmaker John Jeffcoat takes an unanticipated, and often endearing look at all that is Bingo- from welfare recipients to drag queens and the Catholic Church in all it's gaudy, bawdy, and grandly humorous, best.
Filmed on location throughout the United States, Europe, and even on a floating Cruise Bingo Ship in the Caribbean, the film reveals all that lies below the gloss of American kitsch: an unexpected subculture of eccentric and tightly-knit people for whom hope truly springs eternal.
Jeffcoat explores the surprising boom that is Bingo! as well as the problems facing an aging population: gambling, loneliness, and the art of lady luck.
Jeffcoat Films presents a John Jeffcoat Film, "Bingo! the documentary". Written, directed, & edited by John Jeffcoat, and produced by Deryn Williams.
"88-Two Fat Ladies Wobble, Wobble"
Logging over 50 film hours in such wildly eclectic locales as Seattle, New York, Boston, Texas, England, Ireland, Scotland and the Caribbean, Filmmaker John Jeffcoat and Producer Deryn Williams have covered the world of Bingo--the church condoned, legal form of gambling that nets billions of dollars worldwide as the single most popular form of entertainment anywhere in the world. From Vogue Bingo to Bingo Cruises, Welfare Bingo to church Bingo, and even Bingo for Booze, Jeffcoat directs his camera into the often humorous (and bewildering) world that is a Bingoholic's life amid the obsessive play and good luck trinkets. This just isn't your grandmother's bingo anymore...
"I first experienced bingo when I was seven," recalls Director John Jeffcoat by way of explanation for his latest film, "Bingo! The Documentary". "I was with my parents at a Rhode Island bed and breakfast and won $17 on their Bingo Night. Winning seventeen bucks as a seven year-old firmly planted bingo as a great memory..."
Jeffcoat didn't see the inside of a bingo hall again until he was 22, and this time the memory was slightly different! "I went to investigate this building where there were always huge amounts of cars parked outside. The moment I opened the door, I was overwhelmed by a cloud of smoke; the low rumble of balls being blown around, and the raspy sound of a woman's voice calling the numbers...my senses were reeling. I think that was my bingo epiphany."
Jeffcoat soon began to hear whispered rumors from friends and associates as he worked on other films. A boom operator on one shoot knew of a woman who actually lived off her bingo winnings...a UPM on another shoot had heard about gay bingo being played in Seattle...everyone had someone they knew who played bingo, and everyone had a strange fascination about the game.
"Anyway You Look At It--69"
Jeffcoat decided the time had come to push his own luck and so he started the process of applying for grant money to make a 15-minute short about bingo. "Once I started my research for the grant," remembers Jeffcoat, "I found that bingo is a billion dollar industry worldwide." Soon, with help from producer Deryn Williams, his little bingo short had grown into a feature-length film covering the game of bingo from nearly two dozen different locations in America, Europe and the Caribbean.
There are more visits to bingo halls than to movies, or bowling alleys. People play multiple sessions each day, seven days a week-spending up to $100 at each session. Jeffcoat was blown away by the dedication he uncovered of those who would play bingo. In America, legal in only 48 states, the game has spawned the World Championship Bingo Tournament and Gaming Cruise with over $100,000 in prizes; Fundraising Bingo; Beach Blanket Pool Bingo (for kids three years-old and up along with their parents); Bingo in Drag; Gay Bingo, and even National Bingo games in countries like Sweden and England. In Spain, bingo is a black-tie affair; in Albania, it's being blamed for marital rifts as more and more men spend their days in the bingo halls.
"It's Not A Beauty Contest..."
"When you shout out those 5 little letters, B-I-N-G-O," says Uncle Willy, the sixty-something Bingoholic who prints his name on the back of all his shirts so his bingo-buddies will know him at the bingo table, "you get a rush-it's like an orgasm."
The face of bingo may be changing, but the majority of it's players still fit into the "of-a-certain-age" category and Jeffcoat found them to be dedicated, cliquish, addicted and protective of their chance to shine in the spotlight. A bingo neophyte, accidentally picking someone's lucky chair to sit in for the evening, can find themselves the recipient of the evil eye (some of these players have had the same chair everyday for thirty years). Most players can afford to play and look down on those who desperately use the game to try to make the monthly rent. The friendships you acquire at Bingo are friends, they don't usually leave the bingo halls. The two worlds stay very seperate.
"They've Got Every Ailment You Could Imagine..."
The social environment of the bingo halls may at first seem bizarre to the non-bingo person since one doesn't carry on a conversation during a game, but players definitely consider it a social club. Consider this: they sit in the same chairs at the same tables, see the same faces day after day. If that's not a sense of comfort in a stable environment!
Jeffcoat not only interviewed the family of the man credited with "creating" Bingo (Edwin S. Lowe, whose never-ending quest for multiple non-repeating cards drove Columbia University Mathematician Professor Carl Leffler insane), he also interviews Dr. Iseli Krauss, a psychologist whose thesis explores the cognitive process in the elderly. Krauss found those Bingoholics who are able to play 48 cards simultaneously to be attaining a special skill of discerning both patterns and numbers at the same time. These aren't the hotshot young players you might expect: Krauss's study focused on the expert elderly players, and she discovered that bingo does indeed help to keep their minds active and stimulated.
"When the Eagle Shits..."
At the first of the month, when the welfare and unemployment (hence the "...eagle..." reference) checks go out, the bingo halls fill with those few for whom this church-sanctioned gambling represents a high stake chance to pay the bills. For the rest of the devoted, however, the new bingo is trendier, bigger, more diverse.
"The audience is going to be amazed by Bingo's scale and the devotion of the Bingoholics," warns Jeffcoat. "It's all about luck. These people, who may normally have self-esteem issues, have in bingo an activity where they have a chance to win. I really respect the bingo players I've met. They know the stigma surrounding the game, but aren't afraid of it. This place, the bingo hall, gives them a home, a safe haven, a shelter. They can go and be themselves. It's a very accepting, wild community (just as long as you don't sit in their lucky seat!)."
"If I Wasn't Playing Bingo, What Would I Be Doing?..."
Writer / Director John Jeffcoat graduated from Denison University in 1994 with a BA degree in Cinema. While there, he received the Harriet/Shepardson Scholarship for accomplishments in Cinema, and was the President of the Denison Film Society as well as a Licensed Disc Jockey for WDUB.
As an independent filmmaker, Jeffcoat has worked in the film industry as a writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor and sound mixer . His quirky 16mm experimental documentary short "Donut Holes," (World Premiere-Seattle International Film Festival) continues to screen at film festivals around the world. In the past few years John Jeffcoat has aided numerous film productions in the Seattle area as vice-president of the non-profit Northwest Film Forum and Wiggly World Studios. "Bingo! The Documentary" marks his debut as a feature film director.
John Jeffcoat's film work has included the award-winning "The Man Who Counted" with Buck Henry (as 2nd AD); four 16mm short films ranging from animation to experimental documentary and simple narrative, including "Donut Holes," and "Strange, Life" (as Director / Producer); two solo projects shot on location in Nepal with Bhutanese Refugees and homeless women working on a Sericulture farm (as Director / Producer). He has also
worked extensively as a Sound Engineer, Cinematographer and Editor.
Jeffcoat is also the Founder and Curator for FILMS FROM HERE, an on-going exhibition of independent films screened at The Alibi Room, a filmmaker-owned roadhouse in Seattle.
Producer Deryn Williams, since moving to the US from Manchester, England, has completed extensive production work in commercials, photography and film. Clients include Nordstrom, British Petroleum, Korean Fila and the YMCA. Independent features include "The Man Who Counted" and "Black Circle Boys" (97 Sundance Film Festival).
Although it hasn't been confirmed, Jeffcoat has been quoted as saying, "I've never had a desire to play bingo, I'm much more fascinated with the society and culture surrounding the game. Deryn, on the other hand, is on the road to becoming an addict! She was hooked after her first game, and she still hasn't won!"
A JeffcoatFilms Production
Directed by John Jeffcoat
Produced by Deryn Williams
3423 23rd Ave. West Studio B
Seattle, WA 98199