Meeting Jill Godmilow

Jill Godmilow was the first records creator I met, and I was nervous about doing so. I had been asked to process her papers in the fall of 2011, and I knew that she would be coming to visit the campus soon after. I did not know what she would think of my arrangement, and I hoped I had done right by her records. Fortunately, she had given me excellent notes on the meaning of her manuscripts, and I had little difficulty finding an arrangement that felt right.

Creating a film can create many different types of records: research notes and clipping files, correspondence with cast and crew, financial records for film stock or equipment, royalty statements from distribution of the film, and publicity materials, to name a few. A good arrangement for a filmmaker’s papers takes into account how all of these records work together to tell the story of making a film. Sometimes, an archivist has to spend long hours working out where a given folder of invoices fits into a filmmaker’s body of work. But in Jill’s case, I had typed notes from her, explaining anything that might have seemed unclear. Even better, I had the ability to contact her myself with questions. This is a rare treasure for an archivist; so many collections come in after the records creator has passed away, and missing information about the meaning of records can be lost. This collection benefited from a firsthand experience working with the filmmaker herself.

On location in Shamolkin, Pa. with Mark Margolis (the Polish miner, Adam Zarewski) and John Fitzgerald, (the American reporter, Richard Fraser).

On location in Shamolkin, Pa. with Mark Margolis (the Polish miner, Adam Zarewski) and John Fitzgerald, (the American reporter, Richard Fraser). [Photo courtesy of: David Dekok.]

Jill Godmilow’s films blend art, politics, gender, and literature. She addressed sexuality and performance art (ROY COHN/JACK SMITH), a modern oral recitation of Homer’s Odyssey (THE ODYSSEY TAPES), a color replica of an obscure 1969 German documentary on napalm (WHAT FAROCKI TAUGHT), and a profile of the first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra (ANTONIA: PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN). More than just reporting on events, her films are artistically rich, bold, and rewarding. Her sole narrative feature film is about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris (WAITING FOR THE MOON).

Still from the film WAITING FOR THE MOON.

Still from the film WAITING FOR THE MOON.

The Jill Godmilow Papers are invaluable for researchers interested in the independent filmmaking process. The collection includes detailed records of filmmaking from fundraising to production, and from distribution to her notes on the films from around the time of the collection’s donation. And her collection continues to grow: since completion of the initial collection processing, a new accession has arrived, with new film and video prints and further manuscript materials on WHAT FAROCKI TAUGHT and ANTONIA.

Jill Godmilow

Jill Godmilow

When she came to the Center, Jill instantly banished any fears I had about my work; she was gracious and extremely pleasant. I felt awe in meeting a filmmaker who had accomplished so much over the course of her career, and she expressed her own pleasure at her papers being made available to future filmmakers and film scholars. The chance to meet Jill Godmilow was a great pleasure, but I am also pleased to know that now her legacy is preserved for generations to come, and I am eager to see how her work is explored by new generations of researchers.

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