"The Wizard of Zenda," Documentary About Sailing Champion Buddy Melges, World Premier at the Annapolis Film Festival Sailing Showcase
Imagine yourself at sailing school as a kid: the joys, laughs, sense of freedom and fun with your friends on the water. Envision the parents shoreside cheering you on, one of them in particular a larger-than-life personality, well-loved at your hometown yacht club and internationally. Now imagine him in his 90s and you having a platform to share his story with the world.
This is what happened to Anne Peterson, a former news anchor turned film producer, who grew up sailing out of Lake Geneva Yacht Club (LGYC) in Wisconsin with champion sailor Buddy Melges’s children.
“Buddy and my parents were close friends, so I grew up with him as a sailing mentor,” says Peterson, who still races on Lake Geneva in Sonars. “When Buddy won the America’s Cup (1992), they had a big reception at the yacht club; it was over the top. We were so proud of him and his accomplishments. He really influenced a lot of sailors in our club—Rolex winners and world hall of famers. Buddy was their mentor and sailed against them.”
Fast forward to 2014. LGYC planned to raze the old building and construct a new one called the Buddy Melges Sailing Center. Peterson aimed to create a legacy video (as had become her specialty) to honor the history of the club and Buddy. She called film director Mark Honer, her “go-to person” for film and editing and “an incredible storyteller” with whom she’d collaborated on projects for more than a decade. They interviewed Buddy in 2014 (when he was 80) and others for what was intended as a video for the local community.
Peterson says, “I was going to give it to the yacht club and sailing school as my gift so that young sailors would always know the history, Buddy’s legacy, and what he has meant to our community at Lake Geneva and worldwide.”
Fast forward a few years (life got in the way). Peterson says, “In 2018, Mark called me and said ‘We have more than one video. We have the makings of a documentary… we need to go beyond Lake Geneva to see the scope of how Buddy impacted people’s lives and what made him tick as a competitor, why he was so successful in the eyes of his competitors.’”
Hence the birth of “The Wizard of Zenda,” a documentary about the life of Buddy Melges, native of Zenda, WI, Olympic gold medalist, national and world champion in multiple classes, and America’s Cup winner. The world premier is set for March 25 at the Annapolis Film Festival (AFF).
What did the director learn about Buddy Melges? “After he beat you, he’d go up to you and tell you why he beat you and tips for how you could have beaten him,” says Honer. “That’s why he’s beloved in the sailing community. When we’d call someone like Dennis Connor to give an interview, he’d do it because it was Buddy! They all had great stories about him. From a producer-director perspective, it made it easy since everyone wanted to be interviewed and talk about him.”
It wasn’t all easy. Honer says, “Finding the footage to help detail his career was very challenging but very rewarding and fulfilling.” Among significant finds was footage from the Mallory Cup in the 1960s, 16 mm film footage from 1946, and Olympic coverage from 1972.
What will a sailing audience love about this film? Peterson says, “This is more than a film about sailing, it’s a film about leadership, what it takes to succeed in life and your career, overcoming adversity, and striving for perfection and excellence, and with humility, credibility, and passion. It’s about character. That’s who Buddy Melges is. When you hear him talk about his life and what drove him to succeed, it’s textbook in entrepreneurship and leadership.’
Buy tickets for the March 25 Sailing Showcase, which begins at 10 a.m. with "Fresh to Frightening: The Sharon Green Story" (short film), followed by the world premier of “The Wizard of Zenda” and a panel discussion with Gary Jobson at annapolisfilmfestival.com. If you don't plan to see other films, go straight to the sailing films here.