Jerry Williams, aka TVJerry, is a veteran of independent media in Richmond, Virginia. From radio shows and theater criticism to music video direction and television production, he’s done just about everything there is to do within the local media community over the past several decades — even reviewing movies for GayRVA for several years. He’s probably best known to our readers for his documentary on the legendary Donnie Corker, aka Dirtwoman. Originally titled Spider Mites Of Jesus, it’s now known as Dirtwoman, and it’s an essential and entertaining chronicle of the life and times of Richmond’s notorious drag queen.
Most recently, Williams has turned his attention to podcasting with the creation of SIFTER For The Ear. An outgrowth of his long-running film and television review website, SIFTER (motto: “We Sift Through The Sh**”), SIFTER For The Ear came in with the year, releasing its first episode on January 4. Since then, there have been over 30 episodes, with a new one arriving every week, both on the podcast feed and over the airwaves on WRIR at 11:30 am every Friday. Focusing on film production in Virginia, SIFTER For The Ear has featured interviews with a variety of media producers with a Commonwealth connection — and it’s just getting started.
GayRVA reached out to Williams to learn more about SIFTER For The Ear: goals, inspirations, best moments, and more. Plus we followed up on what’s been going on with the Dirtwoman documentary, learned what else Williams is working on these days, and asked: why do they call him TVJerry, anyway? Here’s our conversation.
To begin with, tell us about the SIFTER For The Ear Podcast.
I’m almost embarrassed to say, “I’ve created a podcast,” because it’s so trite these days. But actually, this is my second podcast. For 8 years I produced Curtain Call, which covered Richmond’s theater community.
What made you want to do a podcast about Richmond’s film community in particular?
I’ve been a part of our film/video community since I began writing and directing corporate videos in the 70s. That’s one reason I started my website, Tales from the Grips, to feature the production community (read more about it below).
When I stopped reviewing theater in 2021, I pivoted to film/TV/streaming, which was my first love. I actually went to see Antonioni’s Blow Up instead of attending my senior prom!
What were you hoping the podcast could accomplish?
The show focuses on Virginia connections in production. This could be someone who lived here and is now making movies in LA, or someone local who produced a movie, or someone who’s premiering a film in town at a festival. There are numerous options to help promote our vibrant production community. BTW, I’m always looking for good subjects, so anyone with a potential project can feel free to contact me.
If I’m not mistaken, SIFTER began as a website. Does the website still exist? What made you decide to pivot to podcasting?
Actually, SIFTER is still a website, and has been since 2013, but its roots go much further back. TVJerry.com started as Tales from the Grips in 1998 (when the internet was just becoming popular). Tales ran for almost 20 years, featuring news and dirt of Richmond’s production community. A friend who remembered my reviewing days from CBS 6 (1974 to 1989) and Style Weekly (1974 – 1984) suggested I include my reviews on TVJerry, so I actually started writing movie reviews on the site in 1998.
I’ve been posting reviews on the site since then (more than 2700). As a result, a podcast on movies and streaming seemed natural.
A really basic question about your career: how’d you become known as TVJerry? Where did the nickname come from? And how’d you get started in local media here in Richmond?
Actually, I started my career in media when I produced a radio show for my high school in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Then I was a deejay at the VCU campus radio station (as Sandy Knight), and created RVA’s first professional progressive [rock] radio show, “Veronica Lake,” in 1971.
As for TVJerry, it has two meanings:
1. I made my career as a producer of corporate and government videos, so TVJerry evolved. It was also my corporation’s name.
2. My 15 years of reviewing on TV also gained me a rep, hence TVJerry.
When I decided to launch a website in 1998, I needed something to keep people coming back. A resume wouldn’t do it, so I started Tales with the weekly updates.
The thing you’re probably best known for around Richmond is your documentary Spider Mites of Jesus, about the late great Donnie Corker, aka Dirtwoman. I know you worked on this documentary for nearly 20 years, so it must have been a huge relief to get it out into the world.
Actually, I started work with my longtime videographer friend Dave Park in 1999. Along with some enthusiastic friends, we threw a party for Donnie’s 50th birthday, where we had some wild bands and drag queens perform. That got us started, but then we got busy making a living.
In 2017, when I was nearing retirement, it seemed like a good time to revisit the project. We threw yet another party at Sound of Music to launch the new effort and interview people. That was great fun, so I started working in earnest for two years. I interviewed 70 people and went to six film festivals around the country before it played a month at Movieland. I’m lucky, because all of this happened in 2019, and it played Movieland in January 2020. So I managed to miss Covid.
How has the reception for the documentary been?
Of course, the Richmond crowds were incredible. We premiered it at the Richmond International Film Festival in 2018 and the crowd at the Byrd went insane! To this day, every time I tell a longtime resident about the doc, they have their story about their experience with him.
One of the coolest things about showing it at festivals is that there was always someone there who had experience with Dirtwoman. This includes Charlottesville, Atlanta, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Orlando!
When it played at Movieland, I went to many of the shows for Q&A. Interestingly, a number of current VCU students came to see it and loved seeing Richmond’s counterculture scene from the 70s and 80s.
Are you still involved in the distribution process (which I know takes years), or has the film reached the end of its cycle? Can people see it online or on DVD if they haven’t caught it yet?
In July 2020, Ariztical Entertainment picked it up for distribution (they specialize in queer content). As a result, we changed the name to DIRTWOMAN. This was done primarily because people scanning streamer thumbnails might skip by Spider Mites of Jesus because the title isn’t clear (is it about bugs or religion?). It’s now available for rent on most streamers, and even free on AVOD sites (advertisement-based video on demand) like Vudu, Tubi and Plex. Also, Plan 9 Records sells the DVD version in the store and online. All of these links are available on the website at DirtwomanDoc.com.
What other film projects, if any, are you working on these days?
Dirtwoman was my last big project before retiring. I still do occasional pro-bono videos, but SIFTER for the Ear takes plenty of my time. On a fun note, I’m directing a production of Anything Goes for the Jewish Community Center this December. Fifty years ago, when I was a senior at VCU, I directed the same show at the JCC, so I’m going full circle!
Back to SIFTER For The Ear. Who has been your favorite guest so far?
I’ve had some pretty cool people and, expectedly, it’s hard to choose just one, but here are some of the highlights:
Early on, some of the most fun was with Shoniqua Shandai, who went to high school here and stars in the current Amazon Prime comedy Harlem, which I called the Black Sex in the City.
More recently, I interviewed Chris Leary, who was a drag performer in Richmond as Tequila Mockingbird before he moved to NYC. He now works as a dresser for Saturday Night Live and Hamilton. He was so much fun, it became my first two-part episode.
Locally raised filmmaker Jai Jamison is now a writer for Superman and Lois in LA.
The latest episode features an interview with Grace Whiteside, the first non-binary contestant on Netflix’s Blown Away; they were raised in Roanoke and attended VCU.
See what I mean? That’s just a few of more than 30 shows.
What episodes would you point a new listener to as a good introduction to the podcast, and to the world of Richmond’s independent film industry in general?
Andy Edmunds, the Director of the Virginia Film Office, did my first show and told some great stories. He was joined by reps from the Virginia Production Alliance to talk about the lobbying effort and Virginia film incentives on a show in May.
Just recently, Bob Spencer, longtime movie set lighting designer, gave an on-set vocabulary lesson.
Finally, the interview with Scott Barber, the director of the new GWAR doc, has lots to offer Richmond fans of the band.
Who are some guests you haven’t had on yet that you’d really like to have on SIFTER For The Ear in the future, and why?
Hmm…don’t wanna give away some of my surprises, but as the rep of the show grows, I’m landing bigger names. I will be having Ray Bentley on soon, who famously started midnight movies in Richmond during the 70s. Look for more nationally known guests in the future.
You’ve been doing the show basically since the start of 2022. After nine or so months of doing it, how has your experience of making SIFTER For The Ear been different than you expected it to be, and how has it been similar? Has what you want out of the show changed over the course of making it?
The biggest surprise was how much time it takes to produce each show. It’s not a quick, live 30-minute interview via Zoom. I have to research the guests for smart questions, find a surprise guest drop-in (see below for an explanation) and edit out most of the long pauses and “ummms.”
The primary thing I want from the show is to grow the audience. I ask each of the featured guests to share it, and listenership is growing (esp. with the radio show), but many of my friends don’t listen to podcasts, so getting the right audience who loves to hear about film/TV is my mission.
Is there anything we haven’t covered that we should get into the final article? If so, let me know now!
There are several unique aspects of SIFTER for the Ear.
Each show features a “Review of the Week” with my take on one of the recent streaming shows. Two of my reviews of films playing locally also air on WRIR at random times during the week.
Many people comment on my “Footnotes,” which is a way for me to insert comments about something that was just mentioned in the interview, but may need clarification.
Most shows feature a “Surprise Guest Drop-in.” The people being interviewed aren’t expecting to hear from someone from their past, who drops in to add interesting stories about their project and their relationship.
The last question I generally ask every guest is “What are you watching?” to get some interesting insights into their tastes and discuss some of the popular shows.
And last is “Coming Soon,” where I run down the theatrical and streaming shows opening that week.
You can find SIFTER For The Ear online at tvjerry.com/podcasts, streaming on whatever app you normally use for podcasts, and on WRIR every Friday at 11:30 am.