NORTHAMPTON – Lander-Grinspoon Academy will launch a new social justice film series on May 19 at 7 p.m. with Joe Papp in Five Acts, a feature-length documentary about legendary film director/producer Joe Papp. The series, which is open to the public, will highlight the work of local documentary filmmakers and feature post-screening discussions with each filmmaker. The evening will include a Q & A session with the film’s award-winning producer, Julia Mintz.
“Documentary films hold a mirror to the times we live in,” says Linda Minoff, executive director of Lander-Grinspoon Academy (LGA). “They educate us and deepen our understanding of important issues. Often, they inspire us to perform acts of tikkun olam — helping to make the world a better place — a central component of LGA’s vision and learning. Joe Papp in Five Acts examines the relevance of Shakespeare, which LGA’S 5th graders adapted and performed this year. It also resonates strongly with LGA because of how it grapples with issues of social justice, a subject woven throughout the school’s daily curriculum.”
Mintz, who has a home in Northampton, came to documentary filmmaking in a roundabout way. One of her first film memories was going to see the Woody Allen film Sleeper as a child growing up in Fairfield County in Connecticut, followed by a trip to a local ice cream shop.
“That’s an early movie memory of just enjoying and laughing,” she said, joking that she wasn’t sure which made the greater impression on her, the film “or the bubble gum ice cream at Baskin Robbins.”
She began her professional creative life as a sculptor, potter and a painter, then transitioning into film and commercial work.
“I was doing high-profile commercial work. One day, I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I loved technology and design, but I missed working on the documentary stuff,” said Mintz. “It was an unfolding, a coming-of-age decision. It was about what do you want to do with your life. I really wanted to do work with themes to do with social justice, themes that are important to me.”
An Orthodox friend helped her gain clarity. “She said that when your heart and your mind are in conflict, you can’t trust yourself. … If they aren’t in line, it will affect your soul,” said Mintz.
She gave her boss the news that day and was able to move to the film division within the company.
Her work has included Love Free or Die, a documentary about Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, which won the 2012 Sundance Special Jury award; and Soundtrack for a Revolution, about the civil rights movement, and Nanking (2007), which were short-listed for Academy Awards. In 2011 she produced California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown, and numerous other projects including Emmy award-winning documentaries made for PBS. Mintz has taught filmmaking and digital post-production at numerous workshops worldwide and held an adjunct faculty position at LIU in NYC.
For her, it’s all about “telling stories.”
“When you create a film, you live with these stories five years, seven years, sometimes longer. You think about them, dream about them, share them, that’s the work. I try to be very careful about what I’m choosing to engage with,” she said. “If you’re lucky, you create these films that really have a life and get out in the world. They’re evergreen and not a flash in the night. They’re sustainable stories about extraordinary people and can ultimately become role models or iconic for the rest of us.”
For example, she describes Joe Papp as “an ordinary guy who took on extraordinary challenges, not just in creating theater, but in reestablishing what the norm could be.”
Papp was a champion of interracial casting and freedom of expression and brought free Shakespeare in the Park to New York City, along with Hair, A Chorus Line and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
“He broke boundaries through his choices in creating theater,” said Mintz.
At the May 19 screening, Mintz will offer a sneak peek of her current project, Partisans: The True Story of Armed Jewish Resistance During the War.
“The Jewish partisans found extraordinary ways to fight back an unthinkable, unimaginable enemy and then [went on] to build a life,” she said.
Mintz said that the project is in the “early stages of filmmaking that people don’t know about. It’s the hardest work, finding your story and finding your plot and getting that initial funding and building that foundation.”
She emphasized that she is working with an excellent team and that filmmaking is a collaborative process.
They’ve been to Poland, Canada and across the United States to conduct interviews for the project, with a trip to Israel anticipated.
“We’ve filmed nearly 60 hours of interviews with some of the last living partisans in the world,” said Mintz.
While her films are fact, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a point of view.
“I don’t consider myself a newscaster. I don’t think I need to be unbiased. It’s an art form. It’s a collaboration to tell a story. I tell stories that are true but not unbiased,” she said. “It’s an honor to tell meaningful stories.”
Box: Joe Papp in Five Acts will be shown Sunday, May 19 at 7 p.m. at Lander Grinspoon Academy, 257 Prospect Street, Northampton; doors open at 6:15 p.m. A discussion with filmmaker Julia Mintz will follow the film. Tickets are $7.50 adults, $5 children; the film is recommended for ages 14 and older. Popcorn, snacks and drinks will be available.
To reserve advance tickets, call Ashley at 413-584-6622 ext. 100. Tickets will also be available at the door.