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Documentarian Leslie Zemeckis Points Lens at Conjoined Hilton Sisters

Leslie Zemeckis never set out to be a filmmaker. But now, with a second documentary about vaudeville performers ready to hit theaters June 27, she’s found a niche — and a calling.

Her new movie, “Bound by Flesh,” to be released day-and-date in cinemas and on VOD by Sundance Selects, tells the story of the Hilton sisters, Daisy and Violet, conjoined twins who toured the vaudeville and sideshow circuit in the 1930s. They set box office records and made a fortune, but were cheated out of their money by crooked managers. Zemeckis previously directed the 2010 burlesque docu “Behind the Burly Q.”

“I became obsessed by these women and this form of entertainment,” she says. In fact, she had earlier created and starred in a one-woman burlesque show herself, titled “Staar:
She’d Rather Be a Mistress.” As for the two docs’ commonalities, she notes: “I’m fascinated by people who are marginalized or stigmatized. We dismiss a freak in a sideshow, we dismiss a stripper, without really knowing who these people are. I felt like I had to bring this to light.”

It doesn’t hurt that she can count on help from her husband, Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, who has served as an exec producer on both films. “He sits in on the final edit to make sure the story’s clear, because I know it inside it and out. He’ll tell me what works and what doesn’t. So I take advantage of that.”

Still, the emotion of “Bound by Flesh” caught her off-guard. “I was surprised by how much they touched people’s lives,” she says of the Hiltons. “Everyone I spoke to, whether they knew them briefly or for years, were very protective and respectful.”

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