Mark and Michael Polish became fascinated by conjoined twins when they stumbled onto a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records in grade school. There they found a photo of the famous "Siamese twins" Chang and Eng Bunker, who earned their living as 19th-century circus attractions. Ever since, the brothers have been intrigued by the drama of lives like these. "Most people go through the ups and downs of life by themselves," says Michael. "But for a conjoined pair, everything must be multiplied times two."
Identical twins themselves, the 27-year-olds know something about sibling intimacy. "When we were kids," Mark recalls, "we didn't need to complete our sentences in order to communicate. We rounded off our words so much that we had to be enrolled in speech therapy before we could go to school. On some level," he continues, "'Twin Falls Idaho' could be seen as a statement of what Mike and I feel about each other. All identical twins run the risk of fusion. It could've easily happened to us."
The result of an accident that occurs approximately once in 50,000 to 80,000 births, conjoined twins develop when an embryo splitting into identical twins stops before the division is complete, yet the fetus continues to mature. No one knows why it happens, although the Polish brothers' research indicates that such births seem to be on the rise in the past several decades, for unknown reasons. If conjoined twins survive beyond infancy, they usually have relatively short lives. Chang and Eng, however, lived until age 63, during which time they married and had 22 children between them.
The types of fusion vary widely. A so-called "hyphenated" fusion describes twins who are joined by a thick band of tissue, as were Chang and Eng; with today's hi-tech medicine, such siblings can now be separated. More problematic are the twins who share multiple organs or systems. And juncture can occur at virtually any point on the body, from the top or side of the head to the hips, the chest or the entire torso. From childhood on, the Polish brothers clipped newspapers articles and collected medical data about conjoined births. Their hobby culminated four years ago when they started their research for the screenplay of "Twin Falls Idaho."
"By the time we were teenagers, we both knew we wanted to make movies," says Michael. "I was always shooting film, so I went to Cal Arts (California School of the Arts). And by our early twenties, Mark was into acting full-time, talking with talent agents and doing auditions."
They made a 16mm short, "Under the Dog," that did well in festivals in 1996 and wrote a full-length epic screenplay together, "North Fork," but studios that showed interest in that script also wanted experienced filmmakers. "It became clear," Michael says, "that the only way we were going to make a film was to do everything ourselves."