Helen Hill (1970-2007)

The pure joy and love for experimentation, animation, and education found in the life’s work of Helen Hill (1970-2007) is the guiding force behind all of the educational programs found at Indie Grits Labs and the Nickelodeon Theatre. The story of her life, before it was tragically cut short in a home invasion in 2007, inspired the spirit of our ethos and philosophy.

Helen Hill

Helen Hill was born in Columbia in 1970. Ever since documentary filmmaker Stan Woodward spoke to her class when she was in 5th grade, she felt what would be the first glimmers of a life-long love for the charm and power of film. That curiosity and fascination begat nearly 20 films, including a 1995 film, Scratch and Crow, that was inducted into the National Film Registry of culturally significant works at the Library of Congress. In her 36 short years, she cultivated an identity as a greatly respected leader in her community of independent media artists, and community at large.

Hill was also known for her activist spirit and affinity for education. According to her application to Harvard, where she attended from 1988-1992, she wanted to pursue film in order to “help society recognize its faults and see solutions”. Harvard is also where she met her husband, Paul Gailiunas. Together they pursued their passions through higher education—Gailiunas studied medicine while Hill got her MFA in experimental animation at CalArts. Soon after, she would join the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (AFCOOP) and found a women’s film festival, Reel Vision.

In December of 2000, the couple settled in New Orleans, engaging deeply with the underserved community in their low-income neighborhood. Hill would conduct what she called “film bees”—essentially animation workshops and courses where she helped community members make Super 8 and 16mm films. Gailiunas opened Little Doctors Neighborhood Clinic, offering low-cost medical care to the poor. Hill would always espouse the virtues of low-budget, DIY filmmaking, encouraging others to recognize the power they had to “create his or her own vision, to animate his or her own revolution.”

Helen integrated her creative work into a Goldmanesque life of sweet humanitarian anarchism and her legacy continues to impact independent media arts in New Orleans and elsewhere. In the past few years, memorialization of her life and work and perpetuation of her creative practices have occurred via film restorations, screen tributes, benefits, musical performances, workshops, DVD distribution, web-based media, broadcast coverage, published writing (poetic, scholarly, and journalistic), philanthropy, educational programs, festival awards, and other means.

Dan Streible, Old and New Media

Through her community projects, filmmaking workshops, and general knack for empowering others, particularly youths, Helen Hill’s life echoed something a character in her 2001 movie Madame Winger Makes a Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century, says—name that “you don’t need computers, big money, or the latest digital gizmo to make a film. You just need a good idea.”