A Tale of Two Women – Bloodroot’s Big Screen Debut
When Selma Miriam and Noel Furie met at a National Organization for Women rally in the 1970s, they never imagined they would team up to create one of the most iconic restaurants in our area, much less become the stars of a feature length documentary. Their shared interests in food, feminism, and what they describe as “radical activism” led them to open Bloodroot Vegetarian Restaurant and Feminist Bookstore in 1977, which today is one of the oldest, and most unusual eateries in Connecticut. Tucked into a residential Bridgeport neighborhood overlooking the water, the menu features a ethnically diverse selection of seasonal vegetarian and vegan dishes, cooked by an equally diverse kitchen staff of women. “The kitchen is like a little United Nations,” says Furie. “No other restaurant is as focused as we are in discovering cuisines from all over the world,” adds Miriam. “It’s a very intense thing, but so much fun.”
Despite the fact that the women never had a business plan and never had any formal culinary training, they gained a loyal following over the last 42 years. “Money was never the purpose,” says Furie. “We make all of our own decisions. I don’t regret that at all.” One early customer was Doug Tirola, whose mother brought him to the restaurant in the early 1980s. “We used to eat out a lot because my parents both worked,” Tirola says. His mother, who owned her own catering business, and his father, an attorney, instilled in him not only a love of food and storytelling, but also a deep appreciation for activism.
Fast forward to 2013, when Tirola, now a Westport-based filmmaker (Brewmaster, Hey, Bartender), stepped into Bloodroot for the second time in his life, now with the idea to make a feature documentary about the restaurant and its owners. “There was some skepticism at first,” he recalls. “And I said ‘hey, I know you didn’t expect a straight, white guy to want to make a documentary about you, but here I am!’” After he shared his vision for the film, Miriam and Furie agreed. It took nearly four years of filming until the 97-minute documentary Bloodroot premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival in April 2019. Tirola describes the film as “a labor of love” which he worked on while also involved in more commercially lucrative projects like Bisby 17 and Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon. “At first he would show up sporadically,” says Miriam, “but when he hired a person to follow us around with a camera on a vacation to Chicago, and then later on my 80th birthday trip to Italy, we knew it was happening,” she recalls.
If you are expecting Bloodroot to be a food film, it is not. “It is the most extreme feminist movie I have ever seen,” says Miriam. Juxtaposing the women’s lives with The Stepford Wives, a 1975 classic film depicting women in a fictional Connecticut town (said to be Westport), Tirola illustrates the challenges faced by feminists at the time in similar communities. In The Stepford Wives, the women were expected to conform to the feminine ideal of a housewife, where Miriam and Furie were activists not only challenging those ideals, but the entire system. “We were really way out there at the time,” says Miriam, “and still are.” Furie adds, “we weren’t interested in equal rights; we wanted to overthrow the whole thing!” In the 1975 film, the women were punished for not conforming; “but at Bloodroot, the women were rewarded,” Tirola says.
Perhaps the most special feature of the film is that the story is told only from the perspective of Miriam and Furie. The filmmaker did not interview experts, critics, or historians during the making of the documentary. “This was the concept from the beginning,” Tirola explains. “Women don’t get to tell their own stories,” he continues. “I wanted them to tell their own story.” He interviewed them each individually at least a dozen times, at their homes, in the restaurant, at the Westport Farmers Market, and even in New York City. “These are people who are deeply in touch with their beliefs and trying to live a life by them,” Tirola says. “I felt a super deep connection that I don’t know that I have in any other film,” he continues. “It turned out way beyond my expectations.”
Photo at top: Selma Miriam, Noel Furie, and director Douglas Tirola with Rotten Tomatoes film critic Andrea Chase being interviewed during the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.
Love indie flicks and documentaries? Well, you don’t have to travel to Aspen or even Tribeca to see some of the best new films––for all ages. The fourth annual Ridgefield Independent Film Festival brings the best of independent cinema from around the world to Ridgefield, CT October 10-14.