Time Warp - 1971: ‘Wanda’ Premiere In Scranton

February 7, 2018 GMT

July 7, 1971: Barbara Loden returned to Scranton for a second time for the local premiere of her directorial debut film, “Wanda.” The film was shown locally at the Cinema North in Clarks Summit and at the Irving Theater in Carbondale. While in Northeast Pennsylvania, she was the guest of honor at a luncheon held at the Holiday Inn, Scranton, where Mayor Eugene Peters presented her with a key to the city.

Her first time in town was in 1969 to make her film. The movie centers on Wanda, a recently divorced woman who gets entangled with a bank robber and the consequences that follow.

“Wanda” was an independent film before the term became commonplace to theatergoers. According to the American Film Institute, the budget for her film was $115,000. To save money, Scranton and Carbondale were selected as the backdrop because of proximity to the film processing lab in New York. She originally had planned to set the film in the South.

Once filming began, Loden, who also wrote the screenplay, starred as Wanda alongside Michael Higgins as bank robber Mr. Dennis. Local residents, including Gerry and Marian Thier of Glenburn, were hired to play additional roles in the film. Gerry Thier portrayed Wanda’s husband and Marian Thier appeared as Miss Godek.

Prior to its release, the film was entered in the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the International Critics’ Prize for best film. It also was recognized at the London and San Francisco Film Festivals. When the movie premiered in March 1971, critics at the New York Times and the New York Daily News wrote favorably of “Wanda.”

Since “Wanda” hit the silver screen, it has developed a cult fan base. In 2007, director John Waters said of the film in a NPR interview that “it’s incredibly depressing ... It’s about a misfit and I love movies about misfits. It’s one of the best arty feel-bad movies ever.”

“Wanda” was selected by the Library of Congress in 2017 to be placed on the National Film Registry, along with other films including, “Die Hard,” “The Goonies,” “Spartacus,” “Superman” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” According to their website, the purpose of the registry is to showcase “the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.”

“Many consider this low-budget study of loneliness and personal isolation one of the finest works of independent cinema during the 1970s,” the registry’s citation for “Wanda” said.

Contact the writer: bfulton@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9140; @TTPagesPast on Twitter