Spotlight: Taking home the prize
Publication Date: Friday Jun 13, 1997

Spotlight: Taking home the prize

Name: Kim Roberts

Age: 27

Occupation: Filmmaker

Residence: Palo Alto

Education: Attended high school in Denver. Earned her undergraduate degree in Chinese and Political Science from Wellesley University in Massachusetts. Just graduated from the graduate documentary film program at Stanford University, a two-year course of study that requires each of the program's 12 students to complete a thesis film. Roberts' effort, "Miriam Is Not Amused," has been named one of 10 winners at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 24th Annual Student Academy Awards. She won in the Documentary category.

Artistic background: Roberts traces her love of film back to her Denver roots. "Through high school, my parents had all of these film channels, and I would just stay up late watching every film festival I could." Her undergraduate studies in Chinese and political science first introduced her to the world of filmmaking. "A woman who taught me Chinese, Carma Hinton, brought me aboard to work on a film called 'The Gate of Heavenly Peace,' which dealt with the 1989 demonstration in Tiananmen Square in China. She was an inspiring, fascinating person and the experience of going twice to China, first in 1990 and again in 1993, to film this documentary was my first real project. It was exciting being involved in that sort of undercover filming." With "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" under her belt, Roberts was accepted into Stanford's documentary film program. Her first solo film, "Class Struggle in Palo Alto," dealt with her ambivalent feelings about living in the Bay Area. The most important thing to emerge from that first effort would prove to be her meeting with Miriam Patchen.

'Miriam Is Not Amused': Roberts' thesis film, "Miriam Is Not Amused" takes a cautious look at the life of Palo Alto resident Miriam Patchen, who's often seen demonstrating for or against a variety of causes on the corner of El Camino Real and Embarcadero Road. The film traces Patchen's life, starting with her early political activism (the daughter of two Socialists, Patchen claims to have been "the youngest card-carrying member of the American Communist Party" at age 8, though she left two years later for political differences), and then going through her multiple identities as student, girlfriend, wife, muse, literary figure, widow and elderly activist. The film is careful in its efforts to avoid reducing Miriam's life by favoring one role over another, but it comes close to implying that her unwavering devotion to her more famous spouse, poet Kenneth Patchen, even when he was bedridden for years with chronic back stress, might have suffocated her own political and personal ambitions. The title coyly suggests that we examine Miriam in the context of her own life and words rather than as the muse of her husband. Roberts employs a personal voice in her narration that comes off less authoritative and more subjective. "It's my voice providing narration, talking about getting to know Miriam personally. This is not some sort of final representation of who this person really is, just one person's small account of her time with the subject. I hope that the personal style makes the audience think about the process of filmmaking, about the biases of the filmmaker. My film should not be trusted as a record of facts."

Film in general: "I suppose almost everyone is interested in film. It is a more immediate, direct way to communicate with people than some other artistic media. Today, people respond to it more readily. It might be simply self-indulgent, but it is hard for me to see what relevancy other artistic endeavors that I enjoyed would have to the rest of the world. Film combines many elements--music, sound, pictures, story. And it works on many different levels. Working in film, I feel less like I've entered a field of art and more like I'm involved in the communication industry."

Advice to the would-be filmmaker: "I think that people are very mystified by the technology associated with filmmaking, and I think that for a long time people in the industry perpetuated those conceptions. It's not that difficult to learn. The hard part is the ideas. Learning how to film is not the hard part. Take classes. Most of the true learning will only come when you're out there doing it, making mistakes."

Current projects: She and partner Eli Despres are currently at work on a fiction project set in San Francisco. "It's a surreal comedy about an amiable grocery store clerk who tries unsuccessfully to connect with the store's customers. The story turns with the arrival of a long lost brother who claims to possess a telepathic link with the main character." So far, the film is in the financing and planning stages. "It is an entirely different thing to have to pitch a fiction film!" "Miriam Is Not Amused" will likely show in several film festivals this summer, but those interested in seeing the film may call Roberts directly at 757-0706 to arrange a viewing.

--Rico Sablan 

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