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MPT Instructor’s Documentary Film Screened at Academy of Art

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins had been busy going around various film festivals, but on May 7, 2019, it finally came to Academy of Art University.

In a certain sense, it was “home”, because the acclaimed documentary on Texan journalist Molly Ivins was actually created by the School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPT) instructor Janice Engel.

More than being a journalist, Molly Ivins was a political columnist renowned for her quick wit and biting humor. She received Pulitzer Prize nominations throughout her career.

“She spoke truth to power, and gave voices to those that didn’t have one, and used humor to bridge the divide and get her message out, which was very much about the First Amendment,” Engel explained on why Ivins deserved her own documentary.

“She’s very relevant to what’s going on right now. The threat to the First Amendment is going on right now,” she continued.

Rallying the Next Generation of Filmmakers

On the day of its home premiere, the 79 New Montgomery theater was jam-packed with film school students and colleagues from the MPT faculty. They were there to catch the screening of this Sundance-SXSW-screened documentary film, which also happens to be rated at an impressive 100 % on Rotten Tomatoes. More importantly, though, they were there to show support for Engel.

“On the count of three, yell, ‘Raise hell!’” Engel urged the crowd, who gamely responded. Given the personality of the documentary’s subject, the battle cry is an apt beginning to the film’s title.

Raise Hell Q&A
Janice Engel with Jana Memel during the Raise Hell: Life and Times of Molly Ivins Q&A

Those Who Can, Do, and Those Who Teach at the Academy Do, Too

Creating the documentary was a monumental task that Engel had to overcome, taking her all of six years to complete. In the Q&A, she was straightforward in discussing the challenges that she faced, and the amount of determination she needed to deal with it.

Foremost among these challenges was funding. For the most part, they were relying on Ivin’s constituency. Eventually, though, they had to resort to crowdfunding to continue with the production, an effort that raised them over $120,000 on Kickstarter.

And that’s just the beginning. Having the funds solves a lot of problems, but it doesn’t complete a film. Digging through years of material on the documentary subject led them to identify more conflicts to their story.

Practice What You Preach

Expecting to come across and discovering new narrative layers to the project in the course of sifting through footage and materials is something that she teaches to her students as well.

Even then, the work is not done, because the next step is actually condensing the film. A student asked Engel how many “babies” Engel had killed, “babies” referring to clips she held dearly but had to leave out of the final cut because it simply did not work or there was no room for it.

Janice Engel in San Francisco Film Festival panel
Janice Engel (center) in San Francisco Film Festival panel

“I have a room full of babies!” Engel exclaimed. In fact, her select reel is about seven hours long. “She’s a fully three-dimensional person who lived. Nobody’s perfect.”

But while that may be the case, what’s certain is that Ivins had a sense of humor. The almost four-hour joke reel that Engel was able compile proves as much. “Molly was Twitter-ready, guys.”

Executive Director of the Schools of Entertainment Jana Memel asked her: “If you could ask Molly Ivins one question, and it wasn’t about Donald Trump, what would you ask her?”

“Nobody’s ever asked me that,” said Engel.

“How do you get her message and what she was all about out to the younger generations coming up who don’t read newspapers and don’t really dig in to find out what’s going on? How do you wake not just our kids who are coming up, but the whole world.”

Later on, she answered her questions herself, as she gave advice to all the students closely listening to her in the Q&A.

“Don’t skim the surface. Dig deep.”

Story originally published by Christina Schreil in Art U News
Images courtesy of Janice Engel

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