The Reeler

Recent Comments


A Girl and a Gun
Ain't It Cool News
Alliance of Women Film Journalists
Anne Thompson
Art Fag City
Better Than Fudge
Big Picture Big Sound
Bitter Cinema
Blank Screen
Brian Flemming
Bright Lights
Celluloid Eyes
Chutry Experiment, The
Cinema Confidential
Cinema Eye
Coming Soon
Cool Cinema Trash
Cyndi Greening
Dark Horizons
Drew's Blog-O-Rama
Esoteric Rabbit
Film Detail
Film Experience, The
Film Journal, The
Film Journey
Film Stew
Film Rotation
GreenCine Daily
Hacking Netflix
Hammer to Nail
High Sign, The
Hollywood Elsewhere
House Next Door, The
IFC Blog, The
In the Company of Glenn
IndieScene Movie Marketing Blog
indieWIRE Blogs
Jay's Movie Blog
JoBlo's Movie Emporium
Kaiju Shakedown
Like Anna Karina's Sweater
Last Night with Riviera
Light Sleeper
Long Pauses
Masters of Cinema
Matt Zoller Seitz
Midnight Eye
Milk Plus
Mind Jack
Movie Blog, The
Movie City Indie
Movie Hole, The
Movie Poop Shoot
New York Cool
NY Post Movie Blog
News of the Dead
No More Marriages!
Notes From Underdog
Out of Focus
Persistence of Vision
Queer Film Review
Reel Roundtable
Screen Rush
Screener (Film Journal Int.)
Screening the Past
Self-Styled Siren
Short Sheet, The
Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine Blog
Still in Motion
Stranger Song, The
They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?
Tisch Film Review
Vince Keenan
World Film (at
You Know, For Film

The Reeler Blog

MoMA Turns Lens on Churchill

Filmmaker and cinematographer Joan Churchill, the subject of a mini-retrospective at MoMA's Documentary Fortnight (Photo: UCLA)

By Rich Zwelling

MoMA's Documentary Fortnight 2008 continues this weekend with the first of two sidebars devoted to Joan Churchill, the pioneer female director/cinematographer who produced a prolific body of work in the 1970s, when both professions were almost exclusively male.

"Each year, we have a special guest," said Bill Sloan, a MoMA programming consultant and co-curator of the Churchill screenings. "And Joan is someone I've admired for many years. She has a humanistic point-of-view that is both refreshing and somewhat unusual for documentary filmmaking."

Originally an English major at UCLA, Churchill switched to film when she took a summer class that exposed her to the burgeoning cinema verité movement that would inform much of her work. After graduating, she worked in editing, due to a lack of opportunity for camerawomen. She continued to help her film school colleagues shoot their work, however, and later served as a camera operator during the Rolling Stones' infamous performance at Altamont in 1969. Her footage appears in Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers' 1970 documentary chronicling the music festival and the tragedy that ended it.

Eventually, director Peter Watkins hired her to shoot Punishment Park, his 1971 drama about Vietnam War draft protestors. The film is one of the four features chosen as part of MoMA's tribute. Its inclusion in a series advertised as exclusively documentary is curious; it's a fictional narrative that was merely shot in the style of (and even mistaken for) genuine documentary, but Sloan told The Reeler he programmed it at the request of Churchill herself. "She asked to include it, because she's proud of her camerawork," he said.

The success of Punishment Park allowed Churchill the chance to direct (with Nick Broomfield) Juvenile Liaisons, her first feature, four years later. The film, also featured this weekend, is a controversial examination of the mistreatment of British youth at the hands of corrupt police officers. Following its completion, it was banned from British television.

The remaining two features further highlight Churchill's diversity. Also co-directed by Broomfield, Soldier Girls (1981) follows a group of female Army recruits through the trials of basic training. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) dissects the 2002 execution of Aileen Wuornos, who killed several men while working as a prostitute in Florida. The film served as inspiration for Patty Jenkins' Monster, which was released the same year and featured Charlize Theron in an Oscar-winning performance as Wuornos.

Churchill also filmed a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in the landmark Pumping Iron (1977) and the Bush-bashing Dixie Chicks in Shut Up and Sing (2006). Excerpts from all three films appear in a 58-minute compilation reel that opens MoMA's series on Friday night. Each feature film will be screened twice, and Churchill will be present at all of the nine screenings for discussion. Visit MoMA's Web site for more program and ticket information.

Posted at February 21, 2008 1:06 PM

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Search The Reeler
Join the Mailing List

RSS Feed


Send a Tip