Thursday, January 13, 2011

Filmmaker Unearthed:

Caribbean Waves

Do you know who the first black female filmmaker to direct a Hollywood studio film was?

“…Our job is to bring things on screen, to make people laugh, to entertain them, but also to make them think and to inform them about what is going on in the world. They won’t be able to say we didn’t know what was going on.”

– Euzhan Palcy

Euzhan Palcy

(1958- )

Palcy was born in 1958 in Martinique, French West Indies. Since she was a tween, Euzhan knew she wanted to be a filmmaker in order to give blacks a voice in media. She remembers watching movies from Hollywood that made her angry because blacks were depicted negatively. So she took matters into her own hands and decided to make films. Euzhan published poetry and mystery in a monthly publication in Martinique and wrote, directed and acted in a drama for the television station before going to get her masters in Paris.

There in France she met her “French Godfather,” the famous director Francois Truffaut, and he encouraged her with her endeavors to make her first feature Sugar Cane Alley (1983) (it was also the first feature made in Martinique). To raise money for the film Palcy received a grant from the French government and went to Martinique to promote the project. Mayors from different cities in Martinique gave money as well as individual people who gave what they could to help fund the film. Sugar Cane Alley (1983) won awards and so did her next film A Dry White Season (1989) which was about the South African apartheid. This film concerned a heated topic that was hot enough to make Euzhan have a bodyguard during the filming. The project took seven years to raise money and finish. She was the only female director to work with Marlon Brando and was able to get him to come out of partial retirement to act in the film.

From there Palcy broadened her to include other genres and types of projects. She enjoys making films that make viewers think and have a point to share with the audience.


Palcy works toward giving a voice to blacks in media, which brings me to my question. Do you think a filmmaker can accurately portray a gender/race/culture different from her or his own in a film? Why do you think what you think and how is it possible or not?


Image of Palcy from Images of Black Women

Image of lamp by Boby Dimitrov

Collins, Glenn. “A Black Director Views Apartheid.” September 25, 1989. 1.13.11.

Euzhan Palcy. November 2010. 1.13.11.

“Images of Black Women Film Festival.” International Patron: Euzhan Palcy. 1.13.11.

Paddington, Bruce. “Making Waves.” Caribbean Beat. Issue No. 1 (1992). 1.13.11.

Rickards, Colin. “Caribbean People: Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy gives back.” July 15, 2009. 1.13.11.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Filmmaker Unearthed:

Who’s Got Gumption?

I curled up on the couch this weekend and watched The Holiday and have had one word stuck in my mind since then. Gumption. If you’ve seen the film you know that the retired screenwriter teaches one of the protagonists about what it means to have gumption. My handy dictionary describes gumption as initiative, resourcefulness, courage, spunk, or guts. It’s a strong word that, I think, is a good summary word to describe our next filmmaker star.

Hint: Today’s filmmaker invented the boom mike

(a device that’s like a pole with a mike attached to the end).

Dorothy Arzner


“My philosophy is that to be a director you cannot be subject to anyone, even the head of the studio. I threatened to quit each time I didn’t get my way, but no one ever let me walk out.”

–Dorothy Arzner

Gumption, don’t you think?

Dorothy was a Hollywood studio era film director in the 1920s and ‘30s and the only female director for some time. Arzner has one of, if not the, largest body of work in the studio system for a woman.

She started off her career by studying to be a doctor at University of Southern California (like all filmmakers do). During World War I, she worked in the ambulance corps. Once the war ended she forwent a medical career and, after a visit to a movie studio, decided to become a director (talk about an early life career change). Dorothy had a contact in Hollywood who helped her secure a job as a typist. She quickly was promoted to screenwriter and then to editor. As an editor she made a name for herself and worked on over 50 films before threatening to move to another studio if she wasn’t given a directorial position.

Paramount gave into her demand and she was made director of the silent film Fashions for Women. This became a hit and she went on to direct more films. (I don’t have enough time to delve into her work but you should explore for yourself…it involves films made before the Hayes Code and some more risqué, for the time, material. And she was also a lesbian, which accounts for some excellent film theory). She made eleven features for Paramount in five years and then became an independent director.

She stopped working for studios in 1943 for unrecorded reasons but continued to make some training videos, commercials and produced plays before settling in as a professor at the UCLA film school until she passed on in 1979.

Check out the trailer for one of her films Christopher Strong (1933)


Thoughts on Dorothy? Why do you think she was able to be so successful in the Hollywood studios of the 1930s?


Lamp photo by Boby Dimitrov