Filmmaker Ellen Weissbrod merges her own coming of middle-age story with her pursuit of the truths behind the legends of 17th century female painter Artemisia Gentileschi in a woman like that. The documentary will premiere at the Berkshire International Film Festival with screenings on June 5th in Great Barrington and on July 6th in Pittsfield. For tickets, click here.
Although she has been making documentaries for almost 20 years, a woman like that is Ellen’s first personal, feature-length film. Her previous work includes the IDA nominated Face to Face, a portrait of 38-year-old conjoined twins Lori and Reba Schappell; the Emmy nominated It Just Takes One; and the Warner Bros. feature documentary Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, which premiered at the Edinburgh, Toronto and New York Film Festivals. Roger Ebert named it as one of the best films of 1990. She has also made award-winning commercials for HBO and many music videos.
Gina: In the film, you say that researching Artemisia was like following a trail of crumbs that led back to yourself and your work. What is it about her story that inspired you?
Ellen: Artemisia was a painter and she told stories . . . primarily about woman heroes: Susanna, Cleopatra, Lucretia and Judith, among others. Artemisia’s greatness is in the one frame she chose to paint, how she re-frames the story. It is in these singular frames that Artemisia redefines the women’s stories, and reinvents their narrative arcs.
And Artemisia does this not just in her painting but in her own life; with the letters she writes to her patrons and in her self-representation – in the story she tells as she takes the stand against her accused rapist – over and over Artemisia re-frames her own story against the conventional narratives of her own time. Through this process, Artemisia empowers us all – myself included – to re-think and re-imagine our own trajectories – to reframe the stories we dream for ourselves.
As author Alexandra Lapierre says in the film, “if she dared, we can dare it as well.” And as Artemisia herself writes to a patron who has questioned her abilities, “You will find the spirit of Caesar in this soul of a woman.”
In her art making, with her storytelling, I believe that Artemisia has left to each of us a trail of breadcrumbs to find our own way to become “a woman like that.”
Gina: How many years did it take you to create this film? Do you have any advice for aspiring documentary filmmakers?
Ellen: I have been thinking about Artemisia’s story for 20 years. I first thought of making a narrative feature and wrote a script, although I did not have the tenacity at that time to make it happen. So when the show of Artemisia and her father Orazio came to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum, I decided I had to make it happen. So I guess it took me between 8 and 20 years to bring this to fruition.
To aspiring documentary filmmakers I would just say you have to figure out how to tell the stories you want to tell in your own way.
Gina: Why did you make the title of your film lowercase?
Ellen: To me ‘a woman like that’ is part of a sentence – I want to be … a woman like that or I’ve got to find a way to be … or How can I be… a woman like that?
Gina: The quest to know Artemisia consumed your life for so many years. Now that your film is finally complete, what’s next?
Ellen: Like many filmmakers I have a lot of things on the back burner – but now the first order of business for me and my producing partner Melissa Powell is to get this film seen and Artemisia’s story known. We’re self-distributing, and traveling to museums, colleges, film festivals, independent theatres and bookstores, showing the film and talking about Artemisia and everything her work and life inspires in people.