Saturday, April 26, 2014

Spotlighting Hollywood's First Animal Activist

Her name was Nell Shipman. And thanks to the generosity of the Kickstarter community, this Canadian's remarkable story will soon be retold, documentary-style.

As reported by All Things Considered Boise, Idaho local host Samantha Wright, Nell Shipman: The Girl From God's Country reached its post-production campaign target of $26,000 with less than a day to spare. Director Karen Day is partnered on this one with Columbia University's Women Film Pioneers Project, as well as Boise State University's Idaho Film Collections and the Idaho State Historical Society.

Day, speaking to e-newspaper The Ketchum Stone, provided many fascinating details about her latest subject, who left Hollywood during the silent era with some 70 abused animal actors in tow:

According to Day, Shipman was the first of her kind - a female, independent filmmaker who refuted Hollywood’s mistreatment of animals and refused the assured trappings of a studio contract with Samuel Goldfish (soon to be Goldwyn) to produce her action-adventure films on-location in the wilderness. Her storylines of self-reliant women overcoming physical challenges in the wilderness and often rescuing the male lead shattered the predictable cinematic formulas of large studio productions.
The Grubstake, her last feature-length film, was bought by the American Releasing Company in 1923, which went bankrupt within a year without paying Shipman a dime, even though British rights sold for $4,000. Shipman went broke by 1923, her animals lost to the San Diego Zoo and all her films, distribution rights and revenues non-existent.

Day has obviously stumbled into a remarkable life story here, which she came across while researching a book. For the several dozen films made in the wilderness of Idaho's Priest Lake area, Shipman often performed her own, difficult stunts.

Adding media-oomph to the project is the in-kind background of Day (pictured, above). From her website bio:

As a photographer, filmmaker and writer, Day makes a habit of ignoring the punitive warnings of military dictators, Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, the most recent Republican administration and her Jewish mother. Consequently, her career includes house arrest in Myanmar, lunch with Dr. Anthrax in pre-war Baghdad, fashion reprimands from a warlord in Kandahar and happy hour with the Dalai Lama in Manhattan...
In 2011, Day partnered with Marie Claire magazine and founded Afghan Women's Justice Project, which continues to raise awareness and funds to provide literacy teachers and defense attorneys for Afghan women and children imprisoned for moral crimes.

Shipman, born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1892, passed away in 1970. A website dedicated to the silent era pioneer was compiled in the late 1990s by a pair of University of Toronto students.

[Nell Shipman: The Girl From God's Country]

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