I’d heard about Lotte Reiniger and seen stills and clips from her films, but I didn’t know the whole story of this fantastic animation pioneer.
So when I found out that this talented creator came from Berlin, the city I’ve lived in since 2005, I knew I had to suggest her for the Dead Ladies Show. The Dead Ladies Show tells the stories of amazing women from history live on stage, and I produce a monthly podcast from the events. Lotte’s famous film The Adventures of Prince Achmed debuted at the Volksbuhne, just a few blocks up the road from where I stood on stage telling her story. Afterwards, Rike Reiniger — a playwright and theatre director (who also works with puppets!), and a relative of Lotte’s through marriage — came up to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my talk. It was truly a rewarding moment.
I chose to tell Lotte’s story in the form of a fairy tale in five acts. I think she would have approved. But as I said in my presentation, fairy tales, especially those set in Germany, tend to be a little bit more Grimm than Disney.
Lotte’s painstakingly crafted silhouette films — some 80 in all — stemmed from her precocious talent, or what she called “an uncanny ability” for paper cutting. And while her basic tools were minimal, they led to the creation of the earliest surviving full-length animated feature film (Prince Achmed in 1926) and the animation desk and multi-plane camera that made the film’s intricate details and layered vivid depths possible, along with previously unseen special effects courtesy of wax and sand.
Making magic out of not much was a skill that followed Lotte throughout her days, especially before and after the war as she and her husband Carl fled from Germany around Europe to the UK and back in a flight from the era’s horrors. One of the most touching things I saw in my research was a British newspaper article talking about how Lotte created puppets from discarded laundry soap boxes. She scavenged cardboard and paper where she could — anything to continue her art.
And while she was little known for decades, it seems there in fact are many, many fans and friends dedicated to bringing Lotte and her work out of the shadows.
Lotte’s influence can be seen in the work of notable contemporary animation leaders including Michel Ocelot and Rebecca Sugar, and even a scene from Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows Part 1 has Lotte’s fingerprints on it. And, there’s this year’s Lotte that Silhouette Girl, a 10-minute short film by Elizabeth Beecherl (director and animator) and Carla Patullo (director and composer) narrated by Lotte herself via a 1976 interview; it uses shadow puppets and a multi-plane camera based on Lotte’s own designs, and was named best short film at the American Documentary Film Festival.I first heard of Lotte Reiniger and Prince Achmed from Milestone Films, via Amy, who I met and interviewed at the Berlinale a decade ago, in the course of writing a story on The Exiles for NPR. Amy and Dennis’s passion for film, along with their DVD of Prince Achmed (which includes a documentary and other extras) got me started on my Lotte learning curve, a trajectory that was quickly accelerated by Whitney Grace’s incredibly in-depth 2017 book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation. Find Grace’s book if you want to read more. But of course the very best place to begin is by watching Lotte’s films.
Linda Ehrlich with Milestone designer and former intern, Lauren Caddick
You have to love a film to watch it more than 10 times while writing and recording a full-length commentary. Luckily that’s the case for me with Maborosi.
I’ve seen most of Kore-eda’s films, and they all fascinate me, to varying degrees. But Maborosi never loses its place as the top. Maborosi is the story of a young Japanese woman from the working-class, and her subtle process of facing traumas. This luminous film was shot on location, using only available light and some low-key lighting.
When Amy and Dennis asked me to record a full-length commentary, my first reaction was: “I won’t have enough to say.” But it turns out that I did! Of course I’m hoping everyone will watch the film for the first time WITHOUT the commentary (that’s for a subsequent viewing).
My goal, as I state at the beginning of the commentary, is to “accompany” the film with my words. The film is in the foreground; my words are an unobtrusive background. In fact, at first recording, I left some extended moments of silence in the commentary where I wanted viewers to focus on certain dramatic sequences or narrative ellipses. Afterwards I realized I had left out some information that was crucial. Milestone kindly allowed me to do a second short recording of about 15 minutes which we “glued” into the original commentary with the help of the excellent recording technician.
I admire people who can just “kibitz” (chat) as an offscreen commentary, but that’s not my style. At times I think I got the timing just right to match word with image. The film is based on a story by Japanese writer Miyamoto Teru entitled Maborosi no hikari (Illusory Light). In comparison to the film, the short story offers more insights into the protagonist’s world, and more dialogue stemming from that world. I drew the story into the film, and also I pointed out many details about everyday Japanese life, with invaluable details added by my Japanese colleague, Yuki Togawa (now Gergotz).
When I saw the new print (after doing the recording), I was amazed how much brighter it is than the original one I had been using as my source. I’m so glad to hear that Kore-eda-kantoku (director) approved this more-legible print. Alas, I then realized I had misidentified one scene! But all in all, I’m proud of my work and hope it adds to the viewing pleasure of a second viewing.
When Milestone called and asked me to design the poster for Rocco and His Brothers, I was humbled and excited. The opportunity to work on a film of such magnitude with Martin Scorsese's name attached was a dream I wasn't going to turn down. Both Amy Heller and Dennis Doros know that my love for the dramatic holds no bounds...and this film was no exception.
Before attending design school at NC State University, known for it's architectural foundation and technological advances, I apprenticed with an oil painter for almost five years. All of my design fundamentals originate from the core of atelier or "in studio" painting. While learning from a master painter, I learned to love big brush strokes, bright pops of color, and constantly shifting textures.
During my time at NC State, I was able to incorporate some of my painting into my work as an undergraduate, but for the most part, my paints were set aside for Adobe software. Knowing this and looking back on my process to create the Rocco poster, it doesn't surprise me that I attempted to create a digitally rendered poster at first; I wanted to have the ability to change the narrative based on the decision of each brushstroke in minute detail - from color to shape to size, digital software allows for a constantly shifting story to unfold.
Painting Rocco was great challenge and one I won't forget for a long time! It was a graphic design puzzle and a truly humbling undertaking as an illustrator.
Completing this poster reminded me how much I enjoy storytelling through painting and thinking back on this experience encourages me to continue working and challenging myself creatively. I am so grateful for the inspiration that Milestone Film provides for me - an artist with an archivist's heart. While no assignment is ever dull, Rocco and His Brothers had everything I could ever ask for.
The 17th annual AIFF brought a wonderful selection of films, filmmakers, and cinema experts to town — including some old friends of Milestone… and some new! We were very happy to get the chance to hang out with pals Jonathan Marlow (filmmaker, musician, and self-described “purveyor of moving images’); filmmaker and activist Helen De Michiel; Claire Aguilar, programming director of the International Documentary Association; and Courtney Sheehan, the wonderful head of Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum. It was great to reconnect with artist and animator Stacey Steers, who we first met a few years ago in Houston, and to see how she is continuing to use silent film imagery in her gorgeous, hypnotic films. Other old friends we didn’t get to schmooze with, but were happy to see included Clemence Taillandier, Laura Thielen, and Betsy McLane.
We even “met” a wonderful British composer we first collaborated with many, many years ago — Joby Talbot, who wrote the wonderful score for one of the Evgenii Bauer melodramas on Milestone’s Mad Love DVD. Now living in Ashland, Joby and two wonderful musicians, performed his score accompanying Bauer’s The Dying Swan. And we were happy to meet festival juror Cameron Swanagon —nontheatrical and festival coordinator at Oscilloscope Films, which is Milestone’s partner for streaming and video distribution. It’s amazing how often we run into fellow NYC-area friends in far-flung festivals.
(George taking a photo of the audience at a screening).
A highlight of our festival experience was the amazing reception that the festival goers gave Milestone’s restoration of No Maps on My Taps and its effervescent filmmaker, George Nierenberg — who made it a point to shake the hand of every person on a line for a special screening for school kids. The crowds loved the joyful dance documentary and the tap dance demo by local hoofer Suzanne Seiber and her students.
(Dennis sitting far left next to Joby Talbot and others on a panel about commissioning and composing scores for films.)
Another great treat was discovering Saving Brinton, a documentary about a real-life cinema hero — Michael Zahs. The film brilliantly chronicles one year in Zahs’s decades-long quest to save and preserve a collection of pre-1908 films, lantern slides, wax-cylinder audio recordings, and papers from the estate of two Iowa promoters, Frank and Indiana Brinton. The documentary is wonderful and we were absolutely thrilled to meet Zahs and filmmaker, Andrew Sherburne. The film will be screening in New York at Cinema Village in May and at the Monica Film Center in Los Angeles in June. Catch it if you can!
Other new friends include Dan Miller and Suzanne Clark, the creators of the documentary, Citizen Blue: The Life and Art of Cinema Master James Blue, and Richard Blue, the brother of the filmmaker (who died in 1980). We also really enjoyed meeting trans activist, artist, and filmmaker, Zackary Drucker, who turned out to be a fellow fan of Portrait of Jason. Erica Thompson, the festival’s Filmmaker Liaison, was incredibly welcoming and lovely — she is one of those festival angels who keeps things going smoothly and does so with real grace and kindness. And her volunteers were also wonderful — we send special thanks to Vicki Augustine and Nicole Gullickson, who drove us around and made us feel like Oregonians. We look forward to keeping in touch with all these wonderful folks!
Finally, we had a blast at the closing night Awards Ceremony, which Courtney Sheehan MC-ed like a boss. And we were very moved when Thom Southerland, whose film Fort Maria won the juried award for Best Narrative Feature, came up to us and told us that his experience seeing Killer of Sheep and meeting Charles Burnett in 2015 had been a powerful inspiration for his own filmmaking — he even shot his feature in black and white in tribute.
Dennis and I were really thrilled to be honored by such a wonderful film festival and community. And, if you have time next spring, we heartily recommend planning to spend April 11–15, 2019 watching films at the Ashland Independent Film Festival... maybe you want to mark you calendar now!
[Note from Milestone: This blog is by the our dear friend and intern, the inimitable Maia Krivoruk. We first met Maia when she was a five-year-old whirlwind of energy and opinions. She grew up to be a wonderful, caring, courageous adult. Her curiosity and compassion to learn about people have taken her around the world. We could sing Maia’s praises for days and days, but instead we invite you to read her wonderful blog about making hard choices, trying to live a meaningful life, and growing up.]
In the beginning of this academic year, I was sitting on the 23rd floor in the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. I was one of twenty future social workers in this Models of Intervention course, a core class for the MSW that I was set to receive by August 2018. In the days leading up to the beginning of this academic endeavor, doubt was suffocating me. A part of me knew that this program was not what I needed or wanted to be doing. I was secured with a prestigious fellowship that gave me a specialized placement at the top outpatient clinic and a generous stipend. But it just wasn’t right. I was setting myself up to become something that I didn’t want to be. Having gone to Pitt for my undergrad in social work, it was a logical and rather easy move to enroll in the Masters program. However, there I was, in class, embarking on this journey knowing that I should have turned left instead of right.
I made what had to be the scariest and most intense decision of my life thus far — after just two weeks at the Masters program. I deferred my acceptance to give me more time to evaluate what I truly wanted for myself in the upcoming year. This decision was really frightening — and not in the romanticized type way, where you trust that you’ve made a decision that will open doors for me and lead to curious adventures. It was terrifying to pack up everything, leave a city I had called home for the past 4 years, and return home with only an orientation packet to show for it.
It is not that I have been afraid to make bold moves. When I was sixteen, I traveled to London with my Girl Scout troop to mentor younger scouts about what it means to be a female entrepreneur in a global economy. In 2012, I went to Romania with Habitat for Humanity to build houses with and for local families.
As a freshman, I got the idea of supporting an orphanage in Guatemala. I helped gather more than 800 medical and school supplies and the next year I led a team of six friends to Sololá. We taught the kids English and wellness activities and learned about issues of global poverty and neglect and about international adoption. Upon returning, my team and I created a club at Pitt so that others can experience what we did.
I spent most of 2015 in New Zealand, studying and working with the Maori people there. In 2016, I helped supervise a high school group from Minnesota that was visiting the Navajo American Indian reservation in Arizona, where we all learned about traditional practices and about the many injustices that American Indians still face today.
In December 2016, I toured Poland to learn about the history of Jewish people in Europe. In 2017, I represented the University of Pittsburgh at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Leadership Symposium in North Carolina to discuss racial diversity and representation on college campuses. It was through all these experiences that I learned what a true sense of community feels like. Watching local and global citizens invest themselves into these communal goals is deeply humbling and inspiring. My service-learning trips enabled not only personal growth, but also provided me with amazing and unforgettable adventures.
In the days after I had deferred and returned home from grad school at Pitt, I felt like I was sinking. My brain was overrun with thoughts of whether or not I should have stuck it out. Some of my advisors, friends, and family members had told me that it would be better to have a Masters degree in a year than to go home in search of a maybe or a possibility. But it wasn’t right. I couldn’t sit in a seat that was meant for someone else.
I’ve spent the last couple of months weighing what I deem important. And to be quite honest, I still don’t have a clue as to what I want to be when I grow up. If someone were to ask me in my late fifties, I probably still wouldn’t know. But I am working on accepting that unbelievably scary truth. That life is fleeting and the decisions we make will shape the type of person we become.
When I was in Israel in May of 2014 on a Taglit-Birthright trip, my group stopped at a cemetery shortly after landing in Tel Aviv. Our group leader had told us the story of the first men and women who came to tend to the lands and turn what was once desolate and barren wasteland into prosperous and bountiful farmland. He explained the daunting and taxing process that these farmers went through everyday, sleeping on haystacks with little to eat — but how they also knew that they and their communities would reap the benefits of their hard work in the years to come. The last thing the group leader has said was, “think about your own lives, and think about what gets you up and off your haystack in the morning.” It’s been a little over three years now and that mantra has been stained into my memory. Now I am not an unreasonable or gullible person. I know that to have a job right after college that gets you off your haystack is not always feasible. But shouldn’t it at least be strived for?
And so after signing away a year of a guaranteed degree and fellowship, I challenged myself to reconcile with my decision and discover what I’m striving for. I know that in the future, I would like to receive a degree within in the field of public health. I want to influence population health safely and effectively. I want to ensure that healthcare is not a privilege for the few but rather a right for all global citizens. But before I invest in that professional degree, I need to get out there. I want to explore parts of this world that will challenge and educate me. I want to be the calculated risk taker who knows that traveling and working with new people is never the wrong choice. The decision to leave Pitt is not some reckless wanderlust move, it’s a much needed shift, lining up pieces for me to pursue my passions for service-learning, international education, and global health.
And now, after being home for several months, I am rather relieved to announce that I have found my next adventure. AmeriCorps, which is a voluntary civil society supported by the U.S. government, has a branch called AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults who would like to have hands-on experience in the fields of public health. I have been hired as the team leader and will be responsible for managing 10 other Corps members as we travel throughout the United States working on various disaster relief, emergency preparedness, and environmental sustainability initiatives. Current teams are primarily posted in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico to aid in the relief work from the past hurricanes.
Having just graduated, I know that I still need guidance, resources, and opportunities to help shape me into an ethical and purposeful public health leader. While I am still nervous about this next chapter, I do feel this program will give me an opportunity to further deepen my understanding of service-learning pedagogy and build new experiences designing and implementing public health missions. The knowledge and skills I gain over the course of the year will be invaluable. My hope is that my leadership position in AmeriCorps NCCC will help better prepare me to challenge the members to think critically, develop intercultural competence, and more fully integrate practice/service into their journeys to becomes leaders in their chosen field. I look forward to collaborating with people across multiple disciplines and interest areas in this next adventure.