: Heather Lyn MacDonald
: 54:30Web site
: Women Film Critics Circle Award 2006; Best Documentary – Black International Cinema, Berlin 2006
Selected Film Festivals
: 2006 Pan African Film Festival (CA); 2006 True/False Film Festival (WA); 2006 Dance on Camera Film Festival, Lincoln Center (NYC); Mill Valley Film Festival (CA)
From Harlem’s Golden Age: The Divas Who Won’t Stop Dancing! They filled the dance halls of Harlem in its golden age, performing at the famed Apollo Theater and Cotton Club with legendary bandleaders like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. They led the first strike by African American performers when they walked out of the Apollo in a successful bid for higher wages, establishing AGVA, an integrated performer’s union. They danced on the first black USO tour, stealing the “for colored only” signs off the trains they rode through the American South. That was over 65 years ago, and today they’re still hoofin’ and living it up. They are the “Silver Belles”, the sassy, classy chorus line dancers still filling the concert halls well into their eighties and nineties. Women Film Critics Circle Award 2006.
Buy the DVD at First Run Features
Heather Lyn MacDonald, the founder of Toots Crackin Productions
, is the maker of the Sundance Award-winning documentary feature Ballot Measure 9
. Called a political thriller, the film won such other awards as a Teddy Bear at Berlin, Best of the Fest at Edinburgh, People’s Choice at Denver, Grand Jury Prize at Los Angeles Outfest, and a GLAAD Media Award for best documentary. It was released theatrically by Zeitgiest Films prior to broadcast on Cinemax, the Sundance Channel, then PBS affiliates. It aired throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada and continues to be distributed in the home video and educational markets. Other award winning documentaries which Heather directed and edited include Kiev Blue
and Kitchen Talk USSR, both shot in the Soviet Union just prior to its collapse. Each was broadcast on PBS and distributed by Filmakers Library. Kiev Blue continues to be used by gays and lesbians seeking asylum in the USA. Prior to filmmaking, Heather was for many years an actor and is a long-standing member of Actor's Equity, SAG and AFTRA. She is also a screenwriter, and her black & white photos have been exhibited at galleries in New York City.
What inspired you to make this piece?
Simply meeting the ladies was enough to inspire me to make this documentary. When you get to meet them in the film, you'll agree with me. They are a powerful inspiration!
Briefly tell us about how you made your film or video: what camera and format did you use to shoot your piece, and what system did you use to edit it? What is your working process? Did you use any special techniques to make this work?
I shot the documentary on a Canon SL1, it has a great lens, and I edited on Final Cut. I did most of the shooting myself, though I had some great help, especially from Jon Miller who did the lovely formal interviews, and Orlando Richards (who also did my sound). Often I shot by myself, with the mixer hanging on my side, and using wireless mics and a shotgun on the camera.
In production I run, thinking and moving as fast as I need to. Editing, however, is a slow process for me, I think too hard. I love both being in both places, though, and always feel privileged that the material is mine to shape and share.
I edited for several months on my own (chuckling at so much of what the ladies said and how they behaved with each other). and then I brought on a terrific editor and friend, BB Jorissen. We then each worked separately on the scenes we assigned ourselves, in our own studios, and came together each week to critique and swap the scenes. I'm pleased with what we did!
Do you have any interesting behind-the-scenes stories about the making of this particular work?
There were some challenges, as well as delights, to shooting, as you might expect - especially working with extraordinarily strong-willed women, who have lived long enough that they have earned the privilege of doing just exactly what they please
And, finding that Bertye Lou broke her hip (and quickly thereafter lost her teeth, left on a dinner tray at the hospital) was a huge blow. She was the engine for the group, what would it be without her? And while she was in the hospital, getting the call that Cleo had fallen down the subway stairs and broken her knee and her arm - I was flummoxed, and uncertain of how to proceed.
What is the relationship between your work as a video/filmmaker and life in the New York metropolitan area?
I don't always shoot in NYC, and maybe being at home while shooting slowed me a bit. However, it also gave me the luxury of time to let the story unfold, and follow through the various accidents until they were back onstage again.
NYC is such a great setting, and especially so because these women were such an important part of a big chunk of its history. They were at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, the backbone of the shows that brought people from around the world to this city. Even today, tour busses stop daily to see the Apollo Theatre, a theatrical legacy these women made.
What films/videos and makers have inspired you or influenced your work? And why?
The great makers of documentaries like Dziga Vertov and Joris Ivens made me see the magic in taking a camera anywhere and shooting what IS. Though the work my contemporaries and I do is very different, I think documentary filmmakers are an amazing and resilient bunch. Offhand I'll name Ellen Spiro, Allen Berliner and Errol Morris as makers I admire, but there are so many more...
If viewers are interested in obtaining copies of your work for rental or purchase, whom should they contact and at what address and phone number?
All kinds of info is on our website, and purchase info also, at www.beenrichallmylife.com
. You can go the distributor to buy at www.firstrunfeatures.com
. Or you can rent at Netflix. The film you buy is the feature length at 80 minutes, and includes all kinds of bonus features (more about the ladies, a dance class to learn the Shim Sham Shimmy, and interviews with the composer, as well as the director).