Born in New York City in 1936, Joyce Chopra is an American filmmaker with credits in directing, producing, editing and writing. She attended Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, studying comparative literature, and not long after graduation, cofounded Club 47, a coffee house-music club in Harvard Square. The club was noted for hosting music performances by such folk luminaries as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. She pursued her latent filmmaking dreams by apprenticing with documentary filmmakers Richard Leacock and Donald Pennebaker, and made a short in 1963 with Leacock called Happy Mother’s Day about the first US quintuplets to survive childbirth and the media frenzy that followed. Her autobiographical documentary made with Claudia Weill Joyce at 34 (1972) explores Chopra’s outlook concerning the effects of pregnancy and motherhood on women’s careers. The first time the birth of a child was nationally broadcast, this rich, compact film helped her garner lasting attention and accolades from documentary and feminist film scholars alike.
Chopra married American stage and screenwriter Tom Cole and remained with him until his passing in 2009. They collaborated on an assortment of film projects throughout their careers, and Cole inspired Chopra to venture into fiction filmmaking. In 1985, Chopra released her first feature-length fiction film Smooth Talk starring Laura Dern and Treat Williams, an adaptation from Joyce Carol Oates’ 1966 short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” This daring and disquieting coming-of-age tale of female sexual identity received immdiate critical acclaim—winning a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Best Dramatic Feature in 1985. Though courted by Hollywood after this success, Chopra endured a series of disappointments and disasters in the male-and-ego-dominated industry. She sidestepped this drama by continuing her filmmaking career through the widely seen, but less glamorous outlet of made-for-TV cinema. In addition to several shows, she directed nineteen television movies and mini-series. Later, she returned to indepedent documentary with Grammercy Stories (2008). Today, she also dedicates her time to participating in the nonprofit program BYKids which pairs skilled filmmakers with youth worldwide, focusing on mentorship and collaboration in the creation of short documentaries. In 2022, she published the personally and professionally elucidating memoir Lady Director: Adventures in Hollywood, Television and Beyond. – Alexandra Vasile
About the Collection
In 2015 Chopra donated negatives, sound elements and outtakes for Martha Clarke: Light and Dark and Joyce at 34 to the HFA. In addition, the HFA holds a number of prints of Chopra's work in other collections, including prints of David Wheeler: Theatre Company of Boston, Happy Mother's Day (made in collaboration with Richard Leacock), Marathon (made in collaboration with Robert Gardner), Smooth Talk and That Our Children Will Not Die.