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Lory and family: 700 strong
20 acres -- more than 700 pigs.
The Pig Tales sanctuary houses and feeds all sorts of farm animals, allowing them to live out their natural lives. They don't just take up Lory Yazurlo's days and nights, her every waking moment. They have the run of her house.
Since 1995, Yazurlo has been "the Pig Lady of Bunnell," taking in unwanted pets and abandoned domestic swine, feeding them, naming them and keeping them from America's breakfast table.
And she has navigated those 20 muddy acres in a wheelchair. Yazurlo, 43, has been a quadriplegic (there are degrees of quadriplegia, depending on which vertebrae are damaged) since a 1991 on-the-job accident as a truck driver for CSX.
Her daily effort to tend to the animals, to take care of herself, and fight ongoing battles over a worker's-compensation claim, is the stuff of great drama, say Sanford filmmakers Eric Breitenbach and Phyllis Redman -- a tale of courage, compassion, resilience, a will-to-survive and an obsession that borders on madness. When they read about Yazurlo in a 2002 Orlando Sentinel story, they saw a compelling documentary film in her struggle.
"Lory's utter determination to make this pig sanctuary work is what impressed me," says Breitenbach. "She's in the moment. She can't even think about tomorrow. It's about today, getting out of bed, getting the food, feeding the pigs."
"We went out there to do an art film, which we did," says Redman. "But what we found ourselves doing was getting involved in this human story, and that's the story we told."
Crazy or depressed?
These husband-and-wife moviemakers were newlyweds when they started filming Yazurlo in late 2002. Years of filming, following her, of not knowing whether she would survive the stresses of her life, her finances and her family have become When Pigs Fly, their acclaimed documentary about Yazurlo, her family and family history.
The movie, which premiered at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January, will be shown at the Florida Film Festival this afternoon at 3:45 at the Enzian Theater in Maitland. It is, as The Hollywood Reporter noted in Palm Springs, "an unflinching portrait of how a vibrant woman chooses to live after a devastating injury, and the contradiction-filled ways those closest to her cope."
When Pigs Fly spans the seasons of the year, and years of Lory Yazurlo's life, from her childhood through her 1991 accident; from her discovery of pigs that need rescuing (when the pot-bellied-pig fad ended) to the rising size of the herd that she -- with help from friends and family -- cares for.
It is a tale with heroes and villains, and sometimes Yazurlo herself can come off as both. "Crazy" is a word that those who don't know her might use for someone who lives this close to pigs, with them in, and all over, her property and her house.
"It's a movie, we hope, that reveals how society marginalizes some people," Redman says. Yazurlo, Redman says, can seem like her own worst enemy, refusing to take care of herself, adding to her pig herd and her burden.
"She's physically disabled, and people think she's crazy. What is your definition of crazy? That's about mental health and depression, and that's what we hope her story educates people about. People don't recognize 'depression.' They just say, 'Oh, she's crazy.' She's not. She has her ups and downs. You try taking on what she has to deal with every day. You'd be depressed, too."
A family story
When Pigs Fly -- the title is ironic, considering the long odds Yazurlo must beat to maintain herself, her sanctuary and her sanity -- has a heroine, too. It is Charlene, Lory's mom, a retiree, a woman of infinite patience who handles much of the physical care her daughter needs, who battles with insurers and takes on many of Lory's burdens as she tries to keep Lory going.
"Lory's story can seem kind of hopeless and funny and sad," Breitenbach says. "Then, we met Charlene. And her father. The other sister. It became a family story pretty quickly."
"We started to notice Charlene was out there a lot," Redman says. "All of these tasks she has to take care of to keep her daughter going. She works harder than any working person I've ever known, and she's retired."
Charlene Yazurlo, 64, laughs at that. The movie opens with a shot of her, singing with the Sweet Adelines, a little something she does for herself. But even in that, she's singing at retirement homes and the like -- giving.
"The movie has me doing more than I really do," she says. "Maybe I did more back then."
She's enthusiastic about the film, and mostly for reasons that have to do with helping her daughter. The more people who see Lory's battle with insurers, her commitment to animals, the more chances somebody will be there with a donation, some offer to help managing her way through the health-care or insurance industries. She does a blog on the movie's Web site (when pigsflythemovie.com) with that in mind.
"I just hope people realize, from seeing this movie, what a person with Lory's physical disabilities goes through," Charlene says.
The disabilities are the result of an accident in 1991 when a car cut off her truck and forced it into a concrete barrier, according to the Sentinel's 2002 story. The impact threw Yazurlo and the whole front seat through the windshield and onto a highway. The accident left her unable to walk.
"You lose your identity when something like that happens to you," Redman adds. Lory "was doing really well as a truck driver, had property in Virginia, horses. That accident changed all that, and her. That's something you don't realize is a consequence of an event this traumatic."
An old hand at long projects
The odor. Everybody says it. The first thing that hits you when you arrive at Pig Tales is the smell. Rich McKay, the Sentinel reporter who wrote the story that inspired Breitenbach and Redman, calls it a cocktail of "ammonia-urine and pig feces and stagnant water cooked in the Florida sunshine," and notes that the photographer he brought with him had to find "a green patch of grass to vomit."
"It's not a commercial farm . . . and that spreads out the waste," Breitenbach says, diplomatically. "It's not concentrated. She feeds them vegetarian feed, so the odor isn't as bad as it could be."
"But the first 15 minutes are kind of tough," says Redman, laughing. "After that . . . "
The filmmakers wore their "pig pants and pig boots" to the farm. It was 132 miles, round trip from Sanford to Bunnell, one day a week, every week, for a year. The entire filmmaking process, start to finish, took four years. Now, When Pigs Fly is being accepted in festivals, and they've shown it to a few cable networks, hoping to sell it to TV.
Breitenbach, 50, is a photographer who teaches at Daytona Beach Community College, and he's an old hand at these long-term documentary projects. He co-directed My Father's Son, an uplifting and again "unflinching" look at an Orlando homeless man.
"My heroes are photographers and writers who look on the other side of that fence: Walker Evans, Diane Arbus," he says. "The method is to keep on keeping on. You shoot a lot. You find the story as you keep on keeping on."
The story they found is not just of a determined woman, but of a family that functions in a dysfunctional way. Lory's father is the film's naysayer, the voice of reason predicting that she won't be able to go on like this. But, as Redman points out, "There he is, out there, building shelters for the pigs to sleep in."
Charlene keeps Lory in cigarettes, which don't help her health.
"If I was a quadriplegic and all I needed was a few cigarettes to maintain my mental health, day to day, I'd have a smoke, too," Breitenbach says.
It's a "a film about coping," says Redman, 46, who earns her living as a freelance photographer-videographer. It's a tragic story told with humor, and sympathy. It's impossible not to get to know somebody over the years it took to make the movie, Breitenbach adds, without sharing their ups and downs.
"I love the line in the movie where John, Lory's father, says, 'We've lost one daughter. Another's a quadriplegic. But there are people who've had it worse than us.'
"When I heard him say that, I wondered, 'Who? Who's had it worse than you?' That's optimism, strength, whatever you want to call it."
It's what keeps Charlene Yazurlo so upbeat throughout the film, over the years before the filmmakers came along, and through the long years that Breitenbach and Redman were making the movie. She's upbeat even today, as she plans to bring the family -- Lory included -- to the When Pigs Fly premiere at the Florida Film Festival.
"At first, it was kind of scary when Lory told us that this professor at DBCC was coming out to film her," she says. "But I could tell right away that they weren't there to use Lory. They respected her, and their ideas about animals seem to match hers. Well, not quite to the same degree.
"Lory has this big spider living in her room, huge. And she won't kill it. She tells me the other day, she's all excited to see this spider, the size of her fist, coming out to see her."
Charlene Yazurlo chuckles at the very notion of being this committed to life, even spider life.
"I don't find that exciting at all."
Roger Moore can be reached at RMoore@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5369.
First photo ran on page F1.