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A Celebration of Helen Hill

Screening on Film
Recently Restored

Helen Hill (1971-2007) was a luminary artist dedicated to a mode of handcrafted and lushly imaginative cinema whose all-too-fleeting life marked a high point in the history of independent American animation. Hill began making films at a remarkably early age, directing her first short when she was only ten, and steadily honing her craft at high school in her native South Carolina and then at Harvard where she majored in Visual and Environmental Studies. Deeply influenced by the fairy tale visions of German animator Lotte Reisinger, Hill's first mature films make inventive use of stop-motion and silhouette figures to evoke magical, dreamy and music-filled worlds where the Darwinian order is suspended and the smallest creatures and moments command the greatest presence. In celebrated early works such as Mouseholes and Vessel, Hill created miniature yet deeply personal and complexly textured worlds resonant with her singular voice and vision. Upon completing her studies at California College of the Arts, Hill lived a somewhat itinerant life with her husband Paul Gailiunas, a medical doctor, moving first to Nova Scotia and then New Orleans – at each place working equally as an social activist and filmmaker, also teaching classes and workshops in small gauge and hand-processed cinema that culminated in her now classic filmmaking manual Recipes for Disaster. After being driven from New Orleans by the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Hill and Gailiunas bravely returned to their adopted home months later with their son Francis, fired by their commitment to the city and to social justice, with Gailiunas reopening his free medical clinic and Hill tirelessly filmmaking and inventing new projects. Tragically, it was in New Orleans that Hill would abruptly lose her life – shot to death by an intruder into her home – victim to a still unsolved crime, in a wave of random, senseless violence that shocked the nation to its core. A final film remained unfinished – a portrait of a New Orleans African-American seamstress named Florestine Kinchen whose handmade dresses inspired Hill when she found one hundred fabulously patterned and colored dresses mysteriously abandoned on the street. Following the thread of the Florestine mystery and Hill's own notes, Paul Gailiunas painstakingly worked to complete his wife's last work, resulting in a quietly triumphant and accomplished study of an outsider artist whose dresses emblematize the unique color and texture of New Orleans.

The Harvard Film Archive is honored to be the home for Helen Hill's films – and eventually, her papers – and to offer this showcase of her remarkable talent, which includes a selection of Hill's evocative New Orleans home movie footage damaged by Katrina and recently preserved by a dedicated group of archivists led by the Center for Home Movies in association with the HFA. – Haden Guest

PROGRAM

  • Mouseholes

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 1999, 16mm, color, 8 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • Vessel

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 1992, 16mm, color, 6 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • Upperground Show

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 1990-91, digital video, color, 7 min.
    Copy source: HFA
  • Scratch and Crow

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 1995, 35mm, color, 5 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • Film for Rosie

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 2000, 16mm, color, 3 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • Rain Dance

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 1990, 16mm, color, 4 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • Your New Pig is Down the Road

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 1999, 16mm, color and b&w, 5 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • The Florestine Collection

    Directed by Helen Hill.
    US, 2011, 16mm, color, 31 min.
    Print source: HFA
  • Selections from Helen Hill's Home Movies

    Directed by Helen Hill.

Current and upcoming programs