The Lady with the Lens
(As Clarke was dubbed by The New York Times in the 1950's)
This is a film about a woman artist. Shirley had a mission that we embrace today: to smash blockades against female creation. In her words:
-- from an interview by DeeDee Hallack, project participant
Women are still barely allowed to make movies. Of 2013’s 100 top money-makers, women directed only two. The discrimination Shirley dealt with throughout her career persists in the film industry even today—that part of her story is all too relevant.
About our Project
We approach Shirley’s story as an unfolding drama, told in her own voice, with her daughter, Wendy Clarke, video artist, and an all-star cast of her film artist friends. We have a wealth of cinematic riches to work with: from the camera’s soaring dance with urban bridges in Bridges Go Round, to the B&W documentary grit of Harlem (inspiration for Scorsese’s film of Michael Jackson’s hit Bad) and the proto-Afrofuturist video of Ornette Coleman in space—
our film will have great dramatic, visual, musical, and social interest.
Shirley’s is a contemporary story, and our style will reflect that. This is not a history film, its subject is not dead, our subject is life itself.
The genesis of this project lies with Milestone Film, a remarkable small distribution company that specializes in bringing lost cinematic gems back to life. Many of their titles are almost-forgotten films made by women, Native American, and black directors; they write outsider artists back into history. Milestone’s diligence and good taste over 25 years has won awards and the respect of the film world: Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Barbara Kopple, Steven Soderbergh, Thelma Schoonmaker, Jonathan Demme, Charles Burnett and Sherman Alexie have all co-sponsored release campaigns.
Four years ago, Milestone launched “Project Shirley.” They have painstakingly restored and re-released almost all Clarke’s features, rescuing her from neglect. They also uncovered a mother lode of unseen material from home movies to video works.
Milestone asked filmmaker Immy Humes to direct, on the basis of DOC, Immy's feature documentary about her late father, H.L. “Doc” Humes. Doc was a friend of Shirley’s, and their stories resonate, as artists working in the face of personal demons and quickly changing social conditions of the post-war era.
To date, we have seeded funds from over 50 small donors, and are plunging into shooting interviews with important octogenarian friends and colleagues of Shirley’s, including: DA Pennebaker (her early work partner); Jonas Mekas; Fred Wiseman (producer of her feature, The Cool World); Agnes Varda; and other notables. At the same time we are developing our team and seeking production funds.
Immy Humes - Documentary Filmmaker
Milestone selected Immy to make the Shirley documentary partly because it builds on her film Doc (95 mins; 2008). Doc is a stylistically original take on a literary “beautiful mind,” a personal and cultural tale of mental illness, politics, and creativity. It opened at Film Forum and aired nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens series, winning many rave reviews.
"Scientist, novelist, activist, inventor, filmmaker, architect, prophet, healer and madman Harold L. 'Doc' Humes was, by all accounts, an exhilarating, infuriating and terrifyingly brilliant man. His Oscar-nominated documentarian daughter Immy Humes has gathered testimonials from luminaries including Norman Mailer, William Styron and Timothy Leary, who experienced his erratic genius firsthand, and has skillfully interwoven them with archival footage into 'Doc.' Fascinating, wryly distanced docu…Casual footage from the era captures the excitement of liberation and the headiness of artistic ferment.... Immy imaginatively segues from unexpected angles, mapping out the complex historical, cultural and personal synapses that link the man to his times.... Tech credits are first-rate, including inventive editing and Zev Katz's jazz-laced score."
— Ronnie Scheib, Variety
“A fascinating portrait. Lovingly assembled…jam-packed with interviews with notable 20th-century cultural figures.”
— Matt Zoller Seitz, The New York Times
“The latest in a series of documentary films… made about an esteemed and estranged relative by one of the subject’s offspring. It is also one of the very best. Directed with tight, but understated control by Immy Humes… (Norman) Mailer is particularly eloquent about Humes’s larger-than-life personality and the ebbing and flowing sanity that went with it. Expert blending of period documentary footage… some of the most well-spoken talking heads ever assembled… tempered by the affecting tenderness of first-person emotional subjectivity… nothing short of inspiring… deliciously ironic… a fine film.”
— Bruce Bennett, The New York Sun
Milestone Films, started by Amy Heller and Dennis Doros in 1990 in their one-room NYC apartment, has gained an international reputation for releasing classic cinema masterpieces, groundbreaking documentaries and independent features. Thanks to their work rediscovering and releasing films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles, Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery, Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba, Marcel Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, the Mariposa Film Group’s Word is Out, and Shirley Clarke's The Connection and Ornette: Made in America, Milestone has become one of the country’s most influential independent distributors.
Milestone’s work has been recognized with a slew of awards. In 2013, the National Society of Film Critics awarded Milestone a Film Heritage Award for its ongoing work restoring, preserving and distributing the films of Shirley Clarke. This was the company’s sixth award from the NSFC. Milestone became the first-ever two-time winner of the prestigious New York Film Critics’ Circle’s Special Award in 2012 for its Shirley Clarke project. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave its first Legacy of Cinema Award to Dennis Doros and Amy Heller in 2008 “for their tireless efforts on behalf of film restoration and preservation.” Milestone was also an Anthology Film Archive’s Film Preservation honoree that year.
“Milestone Film & Video is an art-film distributor that has released some of the most distinguished new movies (along with seldom-seen vintage movie classics) of the past decade.”
— Stephen Holden, The New York Times
“They care and they love movies.
— Martin Scorsese
Portrait of Shirley >