an interview with founder Janice Blue
Photos by Marilyn Marshall Jones
by Barbara Karkabi
"I never thought women would have
their own presses-I think all this activity by women is going to make a very
interesting, well-balanced culture..."
Q: Tell me something about your background, so that we can understand what
led to Breakthrough?
A: Somewhere in the mid-60's I discovered films or rather foreign films. During
the day I worked at the Library of Congress film archives and evenings I went to
the Circle Theatre. 12 tickets for $10.
Double features. The Last Laugh and
Knife in the Water. Jules and Jim and
Boudu Saved from Drowning. That was
my social life. If I wasn't seeing films, I
was reading about them. I was really impressed by these films. They were simple
pure, human, and black and white.
And I wanted to make films like them.
So I quit my job, sold everything but
my skis, and traveled across Europe for
a year. I wanted to study at the Lodz
Polish Film School, but it was extremely
costly ($3000 American dollars) and
besides they couldn't understand why I
didn't want to go to UCLA which, as
they pointed out, was next to Hollywood. They were into Howard Hawks,
I think. I taught at a Polish university
in Krakow, instead, and when I returned
to the states, I first worked for a company that selected documentary films for
film festivals and later in the American
Film Institute's (AFI) film grant program. We would screen 500 films quarterly. Few women even applied, much less
received money. We saw a lot of self-
indulgent films and I saw a lot of money
going to the already established male film
directors. Looking back, I'm sure my
sense of injustice had roots here—but it
was still only 1968.
Later that year I married'a documentary filmmaker whose work I respected
but he insisted on our having separate careers. I was crushed. I really wanted to
work with him. I must have thought, how
else will I learn to make films?
Q: How did you finally come to make
your own films?
A: The 1970's came. Even though I was
not in the women's movement, it gave me
the courage to try on my own. And because I chose to do films about women,
there was no longer a career conflict with
my husband. So I started with a film on
my grandmother. Some called her the
general and did not mean it as a compliment. To me, she was the matriarch.
Soon after, she had a stroke. I remember
thinking my film is the only record of her
I began to see the importance of documentation. Women were ignored in written history. I was afraid we wouldn't have
a visual one, either. And it was getting
clearer to me that if women filmmakers
didn't do films about women—no one else
would. So, when the National Women's
Political Caucus held its first political
convention of this century downtown at
the Rice Hotel—which, incidentally, had
a policy against the paging of women in
the hotel lobby-I got it all on film—including an interview with the hotel's convention coordinator. They fired her because they blamed her for the news leak
on the paging policy. Caucus is the only
record of that event.
Q: Didn't television cover it?
A: The networks were there and they got
their 30 second packages for the nightly
news. But it was interesting to observe
what they chose to shoot. They were waiting for the dramatic. So when Bella Abzug
rose to take over the microphone from
the chair during a lengthy debate over
proxy voting, they jumped up and got
that. When one faction rose to protest the
election of Sissy Farenthold as the new
chair of the NWPC, they got that, too. So
every night of my life when I'm told, And
that's the way it is, I want to shout, That's
the way it is to you, Walter.
I filmed hours of the debates and
speeches. I felt the outtakes were important for a women's archive. There were
3,000 women. I kept thinking no one else
is recording this. Where is our sense of
our own history? I saw the conflicts as
the beginning of our political dialog with
each other. Sometimes we were disagreeing strongly, but the lines were opening
up. How healthy, I thought.
Q: But you were, nevertheless, recording
the conflict. Could someone not say you
were airing the dirty linen?
A: Some close to the convention did—I'm
sure for them it was painful to watch and
it was still too recent history-but I felt
by giving context to the conflict, it would
be understood why, for example, at one
point in a heated debate, Bella took over
as chair. Isolated, it must have looked as a
take-over whereas, in context, she was
merely assisting the chair in the interest
of calming the turmoil.
I showed the film around the country,
at many universities, and once at a conference on ethnographic films at the
Smithsonian. The audience is always impressed at the vitality, the intelligence,
and the seriousness of these women. Not
just the super stars of the movement, but
the grass roots women. That's what I
wanted to show.
Q: What other films did you do?
A: Caucus led to a film on Sissy Farenthold's 1974 primary race for governor. Interestingly, we could not get the project
funded. We had an excellent proposal and
even a letter of recommendation from
screenwriter Eleanor Perry but the AFI
turned it down. Finally, the two women
who conceived the film, raised their own
funds. I provided the 16 mm film equipment and filmed the project. It was recently completed. I understand it has
been on public television in Los Angeles.
And Sissy told me Sweden bought TV
rights to it.
Q: So there's an example of something
that wouldn't have been made unless
women did it.
A: That's right. It deserved to be funded.
Q: At what point did you join the feminist movement?
A: Somewhere in that period between
films. Around 1974. You see the media
did a good job on me, too, or I would
have joined years before, but I formed
my image of what a feminist was by what
I saw on television. In all the guerilla activities women came across raving mad.
They looked violent. So I thought- who
needs that? Several times I would drive
up to a NOW meeting only to come back
home. Finally, I thought this is ridiculous.
These women are on the front lines-
they've broken down barriers for me-I
want to give something back to the movement. It had to be in the media, that was
all I knew.
The first project I coordinated was a
Film Festival of Women Directors at the
Rice Media Center. Every Sunday night
for a semester I scheduled one documentary and one feature film. If you had asked
any film student or film buff to name a
woman director, they'd probably say Ida
Lupino. Or Agnes Varda. But we introduced them to Dorothy Arzner, Vera
Chytilova, Maya Deren and dozens of
documentary filmmakers of the 70's.
Q: Your activities in the media reform
movement have included more than film.
Tell us about television.
A: Television has such impact on our attitudes about ourselves and other women.
Just think of the early TV role models-
Lucille Ball, Dagmar . . . thank God we finally got Barbara Walters. There were no
women anchors, few women news reporters. Daytime programming is still abysmal. It has hardly changed in 30 years.
Hysterical women jumping up and down
on the quiz shows. Hysterical women dying of mysterious diseases on the soaps.
How are we to get a good self-image from
In the early 70's I was visiting a friend
of mine in Montreal who worked for the
French television network. I couldn't believe it! They had a one-hour daily women's news program. From three to four.
The caliber of the programming amazed
me. My friend was working on a 10-part
series on racism in Quebec province. They
budgeted this program like we do our six
I kept thinking, oh, my God, back
home Joanne King is the queen of Houston television. Now, the station has Nancy Ames. The same old fluff. They've
added a 6:30 a.m. morning show that's
more of the same. They're still talking
about how to bake the perfect pie crust
every time. And it's 1978! I can't understand it! I know there is no feminist
streak in the management at Channel 2
but the owners are socially-aware people.
Why don't they do something?
Please turn to page 7
Paid - Does not apply
Unpaid - Maxine Atlas, Janice Blue, Gabrielle Cosgriff, Anita Davidson, Deborah Diamond Hicks, Elizabeth Hughes, Marilyn Marshall Jones, Barbara Karkabi, Nancy Kern,
Marianne Warfield Kostakis, Charley Kubricht, Nancy Landau, Lynne Mutchler, Gary
Allison Morey, Sharman Petri, Candace Richter, Ernie Shawver, Loretta Standard, Kath
leen Williamson, Red Zenger, Ruth Barrett
Cover photo by Gary Allison Morey
Second-class postage paid at Houston, Texas.
Houston Breakthrough is published monthly (except for the bi-monthly issues of July-
August ana December-January) by the Breakthrough Publishing Company, 1708 Rosewood, Houston, TX 77004; P.O. Box 88072, Houston, TX 77004; Tel. 713/526-6686.
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the International Women's History Archive in the Special Collections Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60201.