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Posts Tagged ‘filmmaker’

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Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Though her works have largely been lost, Lois Weber made at least 138 films before 1940 — many of which addressed social issues like capital punishment, urban poverty and birth control.

Early movies were made of highly flammable nitrate, which is one reason many have not survived. In the case of the filmmaker Lois Weber, another reason might have to do with being a woman.

Howie Movshovitz reports at National Public Radio [NPR], “As Hollywood continues to struggle with the underrepresentation of women behind the camera, most people have forgotten that 100 years ago, one woman ruled.

“Her name was Lois Weber. Counting shorts and feature-length movies, she directed at least 138 films — all before 1940. She became the first American woman to direct a feature-length dramatic film with The Merchant of Venice in 1914.

” ‘In her day, she was considered one of the three great minds of the early film industry, alongside D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille,’ says Shelley Stamp, a film historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“Today, most of her works are virtually impossible to see. But two of her most important films have now been restored and released to theaters and on disc.

“Shelley Stamp wrote a book about Weber and the notes for the new DVDs. She says the filmmaker often took a different tack from her contemporaries.

” ‘She was a very vocal advocate for cinema’s ability to portray complex social issues in a popular narrative form,’ Stamp says. ‘She considered cinema what she called “a voiceless language.” And by that I think she meant cinema had an ability to convey ideas to anybody, regardless of their educational level, regardless of their command of English, right, at a period when there were many immigrants to the U.S. who did not speak English as a first language.’

“Weber was born in 1879 outside Pittsburgh to a religious middle-class family. She was a child prodigy pianist who spent two years playing organ and evangelizing around the city.

” ‘She started preaching on shop corners, and when she went to New York, she started working at these Salvation Army-type places to help people,’ Dennis Doros says. With his wife Amy Heller, Doros co-founded and runs Milestone Films, which is releasing the restored version of Weber’s movies. ‘She was never really a preacher, but she was always an activist for the poor.’ …

“Before she became a filmmaker, Weber left evangelizing to tour the country as a concert pianist — until one night a key broke and shattered her nerve to perform. She left the concert stage for the theater stage, and eventually directed her first short film in 1911.

“From early on, she advocated for complex roles for women and for serious engagement with social issues. According to Stamp, Weber made films about the fight to abolish capital punishment, about drug addiction, about urban poverty, about the campaign to legalize contraception.

“Weber took up the cause of young women going to work in her 1916 film Shoes, which has been released by Milestone with a new score. …

“The same year that Weber wrote and directed Shoes, she was entrusted with Universal Pictures’ anchor film, The Dumb Girl of Portici (dumb as in mute). It stars internationally famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in a sweeping historical epic.”

More at NPR, here. I was sad to read this part: “Lois Weber died penniless in 1939. Friends paid for her funeral.”

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Although Ginia Desmond had been writing scripts for 12 years, she had never made a movie. Now at 74, she has risen to the challenge.

Johanna Willett writes at the Arizona Daily Star, “Ginia Desmond had a decision to make. Buy a house. Make a movie. Buy a house. Make a movie. She made a movie.

“The 74-year-old has been writing scripts for a dozen years, but ‘Lucky U Ranch’ is her first feature-length film to make it to the big screen.

“That’s because she funded it.

” ‘I consider myself the writer,’ she says of the low-budget film, which so far isn’t readily available for viewing. ‘I wrote the script, and I wrote the checks.’

“Writing screenplays is not Desmond’s first career — or even her second. This act follows others that starred Desmond as a mother and wife, professional artist and businesswoman. …

“For almost 30 years, she imported goods such as furniture and baskets to sell in her Tucson store Sangin Trading Co. on Sixth Avenue. She sold the business in 2003. …

“ ‘Ginia is an interesting combination of very creative and very practical,’ says Victoria Lucas, a Tucson screenplay consultant with a 20-year career in Los Angeles.

” ‘She has that sense of the big picture and how a business is run, and with her writing skills and talent, she has the ability to understand characters. … Very few writers write visually so that when you read the script, it’s like you have seen the movie. … Ginia writes like that. She has a real gift for getting under the skin of characters and making the reader or audience understand them. … She is a treasure for Tucson.” Read more here.

Thank you, Cousin Claire for posting the story on Facebook. Like Desmond, Cousin Claire lives in Tucson, and she has at least one script stored away somewhere about an adventurous female ancestor. I read it. And I know for a fact she is under 74, so …

Photo: Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star
Ginia Desmond, 74, is reflected in her movie poster’s glass.

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Photo: Greenfusefilms.com

Vanessa Gould, the sister of one of Suzanne’s elementary school buddies, is a documentarian. A while back, she made a Peabody-winning film about makers of advanced origami called Between The Folds. More recently, she was given unheard-of access to the New York Times obituary desk.

Her parents just sent an e-mail about the resulting movie and what Vanessa has been up to in general.

“Vanessa recently worked on Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part series tackling the challenges of climate change. … Vanessa was a producer on several of the stories and did additional cinematography on others. You can see most of her work in episodes three (“Super Storm Sandy”) and nine (“Chilean Andes”). Episode three, “The Rising Tide” with Chris Hayes, airs tonight, Sunday, April 27, at 10 pm on Showtime. … Here are links: http://www.yearsoflivingdangerously.com and https://www.facebook.com/YearsOfLiving. …

“Soon after making Between The Folds, one of the artists in the film passed away. Vanessa alerted the Times of his death, aware that it was unlikely they would run an obituary. And yet – somewhat amazingly – they did, and she assisted them in the unusual process of putting together an editorial obituary. Only three or four such obituaries are written by the NYT staff each day. The whole story of how these obituaries are selected and written, as well as the social history they tell, became her fascination. Hence OBIT will be her next film. Check out these links: http://www.obitdoc.com, http://www.greenfusefilms.com, and www.vanessagould.com.”

I wonder if OBIT will show to what extent the obituaries of famous people are written before they shuffle off this mortal coil. Come to think of it, do any newspapers let people submit their own obit in advance? I recently read a hilarious one that a small paper accepted from the deceased at the insistence of his grandson. It revealed a guy with a terrific sense of humor — not a bad tribute.

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The online magazine Salon has a story this month about New Guinea tribe members taking up Facebook.

Anthropologist and filmmaker Jonnie Hughes writes, “Ping!  The other day, I got a Facebook friend request in my in box. … Intrigued, I opened it up, to find that this was no ordinary future friend (from the past) – it was a man I’d met while making a film about a tribe from the Sepik Valley in Papua New Guinea. It was a man who was born and raised in a remote hunter-gatherer society, where, to this day, the women spend their time searching out wild sago palms in the swamps to pulp into flour for pancakes, and the men hunt monstrous saltwater crocodiles in tea-colored jungle rivers at night with nothing more than spears. My new Facebook friend no longer joins these hunts – he’s an elder and has managed to find some income in the embryonic Sepik tourist industry …

“I’ve long since ceased to view the cultures of the Sepik tribes with the romantic and naive preconceptions that we in the West routinely assign to hunter-gatherer societies. I know, from having lived with these people in their magnificent A-frame stilt houses, that Sepik tribes are as modern a group of people as any of us – people who, like you and me, must constantly interrogate and adapt the culture they have inherited so that it best suits the changing world about them.  But even I was astonished to discover that a community that only recently learned that arrows could fly better if they had feathers on their shafts was now into Facebook.” Read more here.

This lead came from ArtsJournal.com.

 

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