Laurie Kahn, Chair
I am interested in telling compelling, visually interesting stories that don't normally find their way to the screen.
Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, I had no idea I would become a filmmaker. I studied philosophy as an undergraduate (at Princeton) and as a graduate student (at Oxford), but was drawn to film as an expressive medium. After teaching philosophy at Harvard and Tufts for several years, working for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered, and editing books for MIT Press, I stumbled into the world of documentary filmmaking in the mid 1980s. It perfectly suited my nature, allowing me to dig deeply in the archives, read widely, interview people from all sorts of backgrounds, and ultimately weave together words, music, and images in the editing room.
My first film job was on Frontline's Special Report: Crisis in Central America (Assistant Producer) at Boston's PBS station (WGBH). From there I moved to Blackside to work on Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 (Senior Researcher), and then back to WGBH to work on The American Experience (Senior Associate Producer). In 1992 I made the jump and started my own film company, Blueberry Hill Productions.
Inspired by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, I decided to put the story of 18th century midwife Martha Ballard on the screen. I conceived of, wrote, and produced the film A Midwife's Tale which was the opening show of the 10th season of the PBS series The American Experience in 1998 (and received a national Emmy for outstanding non-fiction). The film is now used in classrooms internationally in courses on women's history, medical history, early American history, obstetrics, and midwifery.
In 2004, I completed the film Tupperware! which tells the tells the story of Earl Silas Tupper, an ambitious but reclusive small-town inventor, and Brownie Wise, the self-taught saleswoman who built him an empire out of bowls that burped. The film won the George Foster Peabody Award, and numerous others. It was broadcast on The American Experience in the USA, and on television networks in more than two dozen countries.
My latest film is Love Between the Covers, a film about the billion dollar romance fiction business and the remarkable (and very female) global community that romance authors and readers have built. The film had its sneak preview at the Library of Congress, its official premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival, and I’m now taking it to film and book festivals around the world.
I love the work I do, and I enjoy mentoring younger filmmakers as they learn the business. As I often say to them, it matters what stories we tell, and working in film, one can reach millions. Most historical films tell the stories of presidents, wars, and disasters — so it's important that filmmakers like myself (and those in the generations behind me) preserve and share the stories of the extraordinary ordinary Americans whose lives have never made it to the screen. As the chair of the Creativity Foundation Junto, I value the creative insights and dreams of the Legacy winners. I enjoy pairing them with mentors — and encouraging them to be mentors, as well.