When last I talked to Heather Taylor, the director of the documentary “Breaking Through the Clouds,” it was still 2009, the doc was still named “Ragwing Derby,” and Taylor was working hard to finish it up for a hoped-for screening at EAA AirVenture. Flash-forward to June 26, 2010: The documentary is finished, retitled “Breaking Through the Clouds,” and was screened to a very appreciative audience at Hood College, Taylor’s alma mater (and mine).
It was a fantastic experience on many levels. For 12 years, Taylor has been researching and weaving together the individual stories of the 20 women pilots who flew in the very first Women’s Transcontinental Air Race in 1929. She found reams of fascinating newsreel footage and still photos and scored interviews with two of the participants, and she also shot numerous, beautiful air-to-air sequences of classic airplanes. For the premiere, she brought in not only her immediate family–her dad and brother are pilots–but also family members of some of the racers. It made for an inspiring evening. Sitting in a roomful of women pilots who had just finished the thirty-fourth annual Air Race Classic, this woman pilot was overwhelmed.
The Transcontinental Air Race made national news and attracted the likes of Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, and Louise Thaden–who won first place in the heavier-aircraft category. At every stop, thousands and thousands of people turned out to see the pilots and airplanes, and they were feted with dinners and deluged by the media. Humorist Will Rogers was the one who pegged it the “Powderpuff Derby” after he spied one of the racers readying herself for a photo session.
Now Taylor is embarking on a long journey aimed at promoting and self-distributing the film. She’s hopeful for this year’s EAA AirVenture and has some other venues in the works. And I’m hopeful this wonderful film will find the broader audience it deserves and help to preserve the legacy of a group of outstanding pilots. I’ll keep you posted on places you can see the documentary. In the meantime, see Heather’s website.