NEW YORK CITY—When AVN caught up with Candida Royalle in San Francisco as the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality was bestowing an honorary doctorate upon her, she told us about her latest project: an autobiographical documentary about her life, her extensive work in adult entertainment and beyond, to be titled While You Were Gone: The Untold Story of Candida Royalle. And she and filmmaker Sheona McDonald will be paying for it with a Kickstarter program, which can be found here.
"Sheona is from Vancouver, and I met her when she interviewed me for a documentary she's doing on women, sex and shame, and we just hit it off," Candida said. "That was a year ago; she called me a few months ago, and she called again and asked if she could ask me a few more questions, and in the course of it, we had hit it off so well back then, I mentioned that wanted to do this project and I was going to work with someone but I didn't think it was going to work out with them, and so we talked about her maybe her helping me get it off the ground, and I knew immediately that I wanted to work with her."
And to say the least, While You Were Gone will have a long and varied history to cover—beginning with its title, which refers to Candida's search for her birth mother, who abandoned Candida when the child was just 18 months old.
"Everyone has always said, for many years, 'You really should do something about your life's work,' and it's true: My work is very interesting," Candida explained. "But there are a lot of people doing books and documentaries about their work—and I've been in a million documentaries, other people's documentaries—and I really wanted to make it broader, and more about my life, so I decided that it was time for me to finally search for my birth mother and the family, some of whom I knew I had, some of whom I didn't know I had, and that that was turning out to be the underpinning, the thread that runs through my documentary is the search for family, and the journey and what it's leading to."
Thanks to a tip from her friend, ACLU attorney Marjorie Heins (author of the excellent study of humans' sexual habits, Not in Front of the Children), Candida employed the services of a detective to track down her missing family members.
"My father's the one who raised me, with a stepmother, and he passed away in 2002. My stepmother passed away in 2003, and since then, I've given a lot of thought to family and to wondering what the rest of them, whom I didn't know, were doing."
So a large part of the documentary process has been Candida finding her extended family and planning to meet with them, as well as her friends both in and out of adult, and other people who have affected her life, and the Kickstarter program will allow Sheona to film Candida's encounters with them.
"We've already shot a lot of footage just talking about it," Candida said. "Sheona's here with me shooting some of this [Candida's talk at the Institute], and we are actually going to travel to the places where I have family, and she's going to follow me, I guess is the right descriptive, as I finally see these people for the first time."
Candida's career in adult is legendary all by itself. She's appeared in nearly 60 adult movies—a fair record for an actress in those '70s/early '80s days of adult movies—though many of her roles were non-sex. She soon got the "directing bug," and in 1984 came out with the first of her 17 movies, Femme, released under her own label, Femme Productions. Her most recent film is Under The Covers, released in 2007 through Candida's distribution deal with Adam & Eve. Candida also introduced her Natural Contours line of vibrators in 1996, and she told AVN that she will soon be releasing three new models of the popular novelty.
But adult acting, directing and sex toy creation is hardly all Candida is about. A proud feminist in college, she was one of the founding members of the first adult actress support group, Club 90, and over the years, she has been a featured speaker with Feminists for Free Expression, an organization founded in 1992 and based in New York City. Candida herself, along with fellow performers such as Gloria Leonard and Annie Sprinkle, has taken part in several debates with "anti-porn feminists" such as Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon and Gail Dines. Candida has also been active in politics, having spoken against California's first "sin tax" bill, SB 1013, sponsored by then-Sen. Charles Calderon in the late '90s.
"I'm really excited about this project," Candida said. "Other than that, my line is still out on the market. I'm always promoting it and selling it, as well as my Natural Contours line, so yeah, I'm very busy. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it sure keeps me busy. It's a very wonderful journey."
Another important reason for the documentary is the fact that Candida's health has taken some rocky turns over the past few years, but at least for the moment, those concerns are past her and she's tackling the documentary with all the vigor she put into her own filmmaking.
And as the Kickstarter page puts it, "Candida Royalle is a woman you think you know, with a story you've heard before. A porn star, turned producer, turned advocate for women's sexual rights. But inside the story you know, is a woman you don't: Candice. Abandoned by her mother at a young age and raised in unusual circumstances, she was at the heart of these big moments, cultural shifts, who chose a path not many would ... and then found a way to change her story ... who fought for every inch of her success, who faced cancer head-on ... and through all that, came to THIS place ... this point where she's ready to tell her own story in a way we've never imagined ... through the search for a mother she never knew... but is it too late?"
"People can follow me and learn about all this stuff through my website, of course, which is simply CandidaRoyalle.com," Candida said. They can also learn more about the project on Facebook as well as the documentary's blog, which has photos and videos from Candida's early life, as well as words of support from her friends.