Publication Date: Friday, August 19, 2005
Documentary by MV's Pam Walton wins international praise
Documentary by MV's Pam Walton wins international praise
(August 19, 2005)
By Katie Vaughn
Creating a documentary is often a deeply personal undertaking: Filmmakers spend countless hours shooting and reviewing footage, editing material and deciding how exactly to convey the story they want to tell. Now imagine the difficulty added when a filmmaker chooses the deaths of two close friends as her subject matter. That's exactly what Mountain View documentary-maker Pam Walton did in "Liberty: 3 Stories About Life & Death."
Walton's latest, award-winning film centers on two women diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the documentary is more than an exploration of death. It also shows the rich relationships the women forged in their own lesbian community. In addition to telling the personal stories of her subjects, Walton seeks to express a broader message in this and her other works.
"I try to tell the truth about gay and lesbian lives," Walton said. "The drive behind my films is showing what people usually don't see."
A Los Altos Hills native, Walton taught English at Woodside High School until she turned 40. That's when her desire to come out of the closet and explore a different career reached its peak. Having made films for years -- mostly to show to friends at parties -- Walton earned her second master's degree at Stanford (following a first in education) in documentary filmmaking.
"I burst out of this prison, and I came out with a bang," Walton said. "Nothing is quite as liberating as finding your voice for the first time in 40 years."
In addition to finding her professional calling, Walton met Ruth Carranza, the woman who would become her life partner and the associate director of her films. For nearly 20 years, the two have lived and produced films in Mountain View. While Walton's work focuses on gay and lesbian topics, Carranza specializes in technology films that are used as educational and training materials.
Walton's passion for offering accurate depictions of gay life has resulted in a variety of films. Her first showcased a group of lesbians closeted in suburban communities in the late 1980s, while later films focused on topics including gay youth and homosexuality and religion.
Inspiration for "Liberty," Walton's fifth film, came when her friend Joyce Fulton was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1997. She died two years later, with Walton capturing her struggle and decline. Walton said she experienced so much pain and anger over her friend's disease that she was almost unable to spend time with Fulton.
"I didn't deal with it very well, but I could go there with my camera," Walton said.
The first portion of the film tells Fulton's story. However, it opens two days before the woman's death and progresses backwards in time, finally showing her as vibrant and healthy. The second part works in the opposite direction, depicting Walton's friend Mary Bell Wilson as she battles and ultimately succumbs to lymphoma.
Carranza said she is grateful Walton worked on the film, as it helped her deal with friends' deaths. The editing process was particularly therapeutic for her partner, she said.
"That's where she did all her crying," Carranza said. "It's where she did a lot of her healing."
The final of the three sections of the film follows Nan Golub, a vivacious artist and friend of both women who explains how all the women included in the film know one another. She not only serves as a positive voice in the documentary, but also helps to point out the strong community the group of women had formed.
"'Liberty' is really much more about living than dying," Walton said. "[The world] needs to see that lesbian women have full lives that include supporting each other through the dying process."
In 2003, Walton began submitting the 55-minute documentary to film festivals and has since screened it in cities across the United States and in Europe. "Liberty" accumulated several awards, including Best Short Documentary in the Paris Lesbian Film Festival and the Silver Award from the 2005 National Mature Media Awards. It was also reviewed by the InFACT Documentary Showcase, which qualifies documentaries for consideration in the Academy Awards.
Walton's only hesitation with showing the documentary was that she worried it was too personal. While her friends didn't object to her filming them -- they were used to seeing her armed with a camera -- she feared strangers would find the intimacy of the film startling. Some viewers did object to this, she said, but most were positive in their feedback.
"It doesn't draw big audiences because it's about death," Walton said. "Audiences usually come for a reason, either they've lost someone or are interested in the material. They're usually very moved by it."
Walton is currently working with New Day Films to distribute the film to colleges, for use in courses on gynecology, women's studies and hospice and health care, as well as to nursing and medical schools. "Liberty" will air Aug. 22 on LOGO, MTV Networks' new gay and lesbian channel, which is available on DirecTV and will be an option on certain Comcast packages by the end of the month. Additionally, the Pacific Institute will screen the film at the First Unitarian Universalist Society in San Francisco on Sept. 21.
As for Walton's next projects, she and Carranza have a few films in the works. They have put together a 30-minute piece on a group of Bay Area residents who organized to challenge the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, and have begun work on a documentary about their diverse families, focusing on lesbian, immigration and other issues.
"We've already started shooting it," Walton said of the latter film. "We're doing it in a very personal way. It's really making us look at our lives."
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