On a cold January morning four and half years ago, gunshots rang out in the pre-dawn haze of the Faubourg Marigny. In the aftermath, a woman laid dead, her husband seriously wounded, and their young child crying. This attempted robbery turned murder, part of an outburst of violent crimes during early 2007, sent a shiver down the spine of New Orleans colder than any January morning on the bayou ever could.
The victim of this heinous, random crime was Helen Hill, a vibrant experimental filmmaker, working mostly in animation, who had called New Orleans home for several years before her untimely death. Her murder, combined with numerous others in a short span, including that of well-known musician Dinerral Shavers, ignited widespread civic outrage and helped inspire the “March Against Violence on City Hall,” which was organized in protest of the rampant post-Katrina violence still plaguing the city long after the flood waters had receded.
Hill’s husband, Paul Gailiunas, eventually recovered and their child, Francis Pop, was unharmed. Hill’s murder remains unsolved, but her indelible spirit lives on in her collection of films and positive impact she had on the New Orleans film and arts community.
Originally from South Carolina and educated at Harvard, Hill developed a lively, socially progressive, and grassroots approach to filmmaking. She began making super-8 films at a very young age and later honed her skills at the famed California Institute of the Arts. Her short films, including Bohemian Town (2004), Madame Winger Makes a Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century (2001), and Mouseholes (1999), have been screened at festivals all over the world and feature puppets, hand drawn animation, found footage, and original hand-processed film.
Her films are simple and artistic, but always endearing and greatly admired. In her all-too-brief life, Hill made numerous films in a variety of different formats – many of which have now been persevered and prints made available for distribution thanks to the dedication of the Harvard Film Archive.
The only Helen Hill film I have had the pleasure of seeing is her 1995 student film Scratch and Crow, which is excellent. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The library’s news release also stated of the film: “this animated short work is filled with vivid color and a light sense of humor. It is also a poetic and spiritual homage to animals and the human soul.”
Helen was also the author of a book called Recipes for Disaster: A Hand Crafted Film Cookbook, which is a compilation of filmmaker’s techniques for hand processing film.
Please join the American Library Association’s Video Round Table and friends of Helen Hill this Sunday night, June 26, for a celebration of her life and work at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center. Her flood films from Katrina and a selection of 10 works from the Harvard Film Archive will be screened, including all the ones listed above and more.
These cherished works, along with some of Helen’s recently restored Super 8 home movies that were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina will also be screened, as well as brief testimonials and stories of Helen’s life and work will be given by those that knew her best – Rene Broussard, Brad Ott, Jon Clark, Caroline & Kit Senter, Dwight Swanson, Kara van Malssen, Brenda Flora, Wise Wolfe, Karen Kern, Cheryl Wagner, andEllen Ellis.
The event starts at 7:00 pm with a brief welcome, a cash bar, and hors d’oeuvres served. The program and screening will take place from 8:00 – 9:30 pm.
Tickets cost $15 in advance (contact Danette Pachtner at [email protected] and $17 at the door (cash or check). Proceeds will go to the 2012 Helen Hill Award and the Francis Pop Education Fund.
For more on Helen Hill’s life, films, family, tributes, and memories, please visit the website http://helenhill.org.
So come out to the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center (1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. New Orleans) this Sunday night to celebrate the life and work of this endearing New Orleans artist. And take advantage of all the Zeitgeist Arts Center has to offer, and by doing so, help support one the premier alternative arts center in the South.
You can also visit the Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center’s website here.
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