It was my dear friends, Jim and Lois Secundy, who brought me from Allston, MA to the Berkshires. It was still permissible in the early Seventies to pretend we were still living in the Sixties, and having helped them move from Cambridge still socially acceptable to ask to move into what proved to be a slightly larger house than they needed in Sheffield. I imagined a short stay but haven’t yet left the Berkshires.
My red family book done I began a series of odd jobs: caretaking at three dollars an hour an old farm about to be transformed into a country estate for a determined and fabulously wealthy New York City attorney and his driven wife; working the front desk at what proved to be Alice’s last restaurant; organizing food co-ops and community gardens; and teaching and advising for the University Without Walls program of UMASS.
It was through the boyfriend of the girlfriend of my girlfriend at the time that I found my way to filmmaking. John MacGruer was teaching film at Columbia while living up here. I began to write a simple script he and his students could film and before long we were partners. By then I was living in Monterey, MA and engaged in a community-organizing project about energy. We soon made “Monterey Lights The Way,” an hour-long documentary about the international energy conservation contest Monterey got caught up in, and that brief moment when tiny Monterey seemed the center of national attention.
“It’s Not Just About Vegetables” is a short videotape we produced to document the efforts of a handful of people determined to create the first Community Supported Agriculture project (CSA) here in the US.
Together, John and I co-produced my play about Edith Wharton for television. “Songs From The Heart: Edith Wharton” aired on BRAVO and PBS, and though we made it for less than sixty thousand dollars, it was nominated in 1988 for the Best Dramatic Special on Cable TV, competing against productions that cost millions. Our partnership survived one more project, “10 Days/10 Years: The Nicaraguan Elections of 1990.”
Along the way I had learned to take sound, production manage, co-direct, and edit. Determined to continue on, I taught myself to shoot, and found myself, thanks to the new developments in digital filmmaking, Hi-8 videotape and Sony’s VX1000 with an onboard Schoeps mic, learning how to do it alone.
My dear friend Sheila implored me to document her unfortunate battle with breast cancer and I subsequently found myself in places and positions I hadn’t expected. In the almost all female Faulkner Breast Clinic, videotaping needle biopsies and chemo, and watching a dear friend struggle with the impossible reality that is dying of cancer far too soon. “Sheila’s Story” was the first film I did by myself. I had learned just enough to imagine doing it again.
Little did I know that the decision to document GE’s use and misuse of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at its Pittsfield MA transformer plant would require ten years of work. Spurred on by promises made to Ed Bates and Charles Fessenden, two of the managers at Power Transformer, and to many of the GE workers I met, I videotaped interviews and meetings and demonstrations and press conferences for more than a decade. “Good Things To Life: GE, PCBs and Our Town” tells a small part of this incredibly complex story.
I couldn’t help but make my last film, “World on Fire.” Meeting John Flynn changed me, and my decision to make a film about the year he spent in Iraq, sent me to unimagined places. I had spent so many years opposing the war in Vietnam, then with “10 Days” examining our disastrous policy in Central America. But always from the outside, a critic, in protest. To tell John’s story, I had to journey inward, to appreciate the life of a soldier. I spent hours listening to the news reports from Iraq, more often the news as told by the BBC, hours looking at the photos taken by members of the armed forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. My friend Rich told me a bit about his service doing helicopter rescues. I will be forever grateful that John was willing to tell me his story. There was a time when John couldn’t bear to see it, and I quickly took it from circulation. Perhaps you’ll learn something from it.
I became a better editor than anything else, and several times found myself editing the work of others. To my fellow film-editors, all power to you. It is, as you know, an often thankless but glorious task, to make something out of … well it varies so much, but to be there in the dark, imagining new ways to tell the story, even if the director, producer, or whoever comes in to all too quickly judge your work the next morning can’t yet see it … well it’s the work that matters.
After years of exhausting grant-writing, raising not enough money, the never-ending effort to get the films in festivals, to distributors, it’s a never-ending joy to face a blank computer screen, iced latte in hand, to write and not-write and hope to write, then write again.
You can view my films on YouTube and/or download them for personal use here:
Monterey Lights The Way
It’s Not Just About Vegetables
Songs From The Heart: Edith Wharton
10 Days/10 Years: The Nicaraguan Elections of 1990
Good Things To Life: GE, PCBs and Our Town
World on Fire: Spc. John Flynn’s War in Iraq