Helen Hill

Helen Hill

Helen Hill (May 9, 1970 - January 4, 2007) was an experimental animator, filmmaker, educator, artist, writer, and social activist who lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hill's still-unsolved murder by a random intruder in her home in the early morning of January 4, 2007 was one of six murders in New Orleans in a single 24-hour period, and it, along with the murder a week before of Dinnerral Shaver -- the New Orleans musician and Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer -- sparked widespread civic outrage in New Orleans, and led to a March Against Violence on City Hall by thousands of New Orleanians, drawing significant press coverage in the United States and the rest of the world.


Helen Hill was a native of Columbia, South Carolina, where she lived until graduating from Dreher High School in 1988. She identified herself as a Southerner (though after marrying her husband Paul Gailiunas, a Canadian citizen originally from Edmonton, Alberta, she later became a dual US-Canadian citizen), and had deep roots in her home city of Columbia. Her mother, Becky, named her Helen Wingard Hill after her own mother, Helen Addison Wingard, another Columbian.

Helen Hill began creating short animated films at age eleven. After the documentary filmmaker [http://www.stanwoodward.com/ Stan Woodward] visited her fifth-grade class, she made a stop-motion Super 8 film that she entitled "The House of Sweet Magic" (1981). Made on a tabletop at home, it shows a toy dinosaur attacking a gingerbread house. That same year she and her classmates (Shack Allison, Kevin Curtis, Cissy Fowler, Brannon Gregg, and Creighton Waters, assisted by Susan Leonard of the South Carolina Arts Commission and teacher Penelope Rawl) made another Super 8 movie as part of a statewide filmmaking-in-the-classroom initiative. "Quacks", a live action film with a musical track recorded separately on audiocassette tape, is a comic vignette featuring a person in a duck costume interacting with school children at their bus stop.

Hill earned her B.S. at Harvard University in 1992. While majoring in English, she also minored in Visual and Environmental Studies, the academic department housing filmmaking. While at Harvard she made the 16mm animated short "Rain Dance" as well as two other animated films.

After graduating from Harvard in 1988 Hill and fellow Harvard '92 classmate Paul Gailiunas -- merely a close friend at the time -- headed to New Orleans for the summer, drawn to the Big Easy's vibrant arts and music culture, and progressive social sensibility. That summer they fell in love (Hill's film "Tunnel of Love" (1996) tells the story of this "accidental romance," accompanied by a song written and performed by Gailiunas), and Hill and Gailiunas were married in Columbia, SC two years later.

Hill further developed her artistic work while completing her Masters of Fine Arts degree at California Institute of the Arts. Upon her graduation from CalArts in 1995, she moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada where Gailiunas was attending Dalhousie University Medical School. Hill continued to create films and teach film animation at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (now NSCAD University) and at the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (AFCOOP). Hill and Gailiunas lived in the Halifax's culturally-diverse but economically-depressed north end (which is paid tribute to in her 2004 film "Bohemian Town").

On December 17, 2000, the couple returned to New Orleans with their cat Nola and their pet pot-bellied pig Rosie, settling in the Mid-City district. On October 17, 2004, Hill gave birth to their son, Francis Pop.

Hill continued to teach animation through the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) and through the New Orleans Film Collective, which she co-founded with other members of the local film community. [ [http://www.afcoop.ca/30takes/bio_hill.html Biography on Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative site] ]

Hill and family were temporarily displaced and lost most of their possessions in August 2005 due to the Hurricane Katrina levee failures which flooded their Mid City home along with some 80% of the city. After relocating to Columbia, South Carolina for a year, she returned to New Orleans with her son and husband. She continued both her art and her activism, which was focused on helping local grassroots endeavours aimed at rebuilding the city. She was a visiting artist at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.


Helen Hill was murdered about 5:30 in the morning on January 4, 2007 by an unknown intruder in her home in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. Her husband was shot three times and survived; their toddler son was uninjured. As of June 2008 the murderer has not been apprehended.

Hill's murder was one of a spate of killings in the first week of 2007 in New Orleans, prompting civic outrage that culminated in a march on City Hall on January 11, 2007. [ [http://www.nola.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-7/1168069740297680.xml?NP1&coll=1 Brendan McCarthy, "Marigny victims worked to leave mark on city,"] New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 6, 2007] [ [http://www.nola.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-7/1168586093261300.xml?NP1&coll=1 Laura Maggi, "Enough! Thousands march to protest city's alarming murder rate"] , New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 12, 2007] [ [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070105.wxmurder06/BNStory/National/home "Life in New Orleans turns tragic for Canadians"] The Globe & Mail, January 6, 2007]

Film and artwork

In filmmaking technique, Hill took much of her inspiration for two-dimensional silhouette puppets from animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger. Hill's films also incorporated many other animation techniques, such as three-dimensional stop motion, three-dimensional puppets, cel cycles, and drawing-on-film. In the mid-1990s, Hill became attracted to more do-it-yourself methods of filmmaking, such as hand processing and tinting or toning images by hand. In 1999 and 2000, she attended Phil Hoffman's Independent Imaging Retreat in Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada, to develop her hand-processing technical skills. Hand-crafted film techniques found their way into her film work, most notably in "Mouseholes" (1999) and "Madame Winger Makes a Film" (2001).

In addition to her body of work in film, Hill took on other roles from time to time, curating "The Ladies' Film Bee" program at the 2000 Splice This! Super 8 Film Festival (Toronto) and compiling/editing a reference book of hand-crafted film techniques ("Recipes for Disaster: a Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet" 2001, revised 2004). After Hurricane Katrina, Hill's interests in film expanded into archiving, and she gave several lectures at CalArts and other schools promoting do-it-yourself techniques for archiving and restoring motion picture film. The moving image archivist Kara Van Malssen worked with Hill as part of her New York University master's thesis, [http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/research/disaster/06ala-talks/talk_vanmalssen.shtml "Disaster Planning and Recovery: Post-Katrina Lessons for Mixed Media Collections".]

Hill was an award-winning filmmaker and was featured in several high-profile film festivals (such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival). In 2004, she was awarded a Media Arts Fellowship Grant by the Rockefeller Foundation for her achievements in film. She used this award to begin production on "The Florestine Collection", an animated film inspired by a collection of about 100 hand-sewn dresses she found in a garbage pile in New Orleans in 2001. This film is still in production, being completed by Paul Gailiunas and friends.

In 2007, Harvard Film Archive established the Helen Hill Collection, a repository of films, drawings, photographs, art works, writings, music, and ephemera. Ten of Hill's animated and experimental works are available for archival loan and exhibition as a compilation reel of 16mm film prints.

In March 2008, New York University organized "Anywhere: A Tribute to Artist and Activist Helen Hill," an evening of newly preserved work by and about Hill. The screening opened the 6th Orphan Film Symposium in New York. NYU's Department of Cinema Studies, the University of South Carolina's Film Studies Program, and the Nickelodeon Theatre presented the inaugural Helen Hill Awards to filmmakers Naomi Uman and Jimmy Kinder for their works "affirming Helen Hill's artistic legacy, lived values, and everyday passions." [The Orphan Film Symposium's Helen Hill Award is described [http://www.nyu.edu/orphanfilm/helenhillaward/ "at NYU.edu/Orphans"] . Also in 2008, the Nickelodeon Theatre/Columbia Film Society announced a Helen Hill Media Education Center will be added to the renovation of the Nickelodeon's future home, the Fox Theatre on Main Street, in Columbia, South Carolina. [http://www.nickelodeon.org/fox.php Nickelodeon.org] . ]

Filmography [Source: Dan Streible, "In memoriam" Helen Hill," "Film History" 19, no. 4 (2007), pp. 438-41.]

# "The House of Sweet Magic" (1981)
# "Quacks" (1981, with classmates at Brennen Elementary School)
# "Rain Dance" (1990, reconstructed 2007) [http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/program/student_work/2007spring/07s_3402_a1.pdf Preservation History]
# "Upperground Show" (1991)
# "Vessel" (1992)
# "No Smoking in the Theater" (1995)
# "The World's Smallest Fair" (1995)
# "Scratch and Crow" (1995)
# "Tunnel of Love" (1996) [http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=3348217n View]
# "Fast Fax" for CBC-TV’s "StreetCents" (1997–1998)
# "I Love Nola" (1998)
# "Your New Pig is Down the Road" (1999)
# "Mouseholes" (1999)
# "Film for Rosie" (2000)
# "Madame Winger Makes a Film" (2001)
# "Five Spells" (2001)
# ["New Orleans Video Access Center poetry project" film] (ca. 2002–05)
# "Termite Light" (2003, with Courtney Egan)
# "Rosie Wonders What to Wear" (2003) [http://www.gothtober.com/ARCHIVE/2003/index.html Gothtober]
# film for Haley Lou Haden's "By Bread Alone" (ca. 2003)
# film for Haden's puppet theater "One Life, Magic Cone" (ca. 2003)
# "Gothtober Baby" (2004) [http://www.gothtober.com/ARCHIVE/2004/index.html Gothtober]
# "Bohemian Town" (2004)
# "Halloween in New Orleans" (2005) [http://www.gothtober.com/ARCHIVE/2005/index.html Gothtober]
# 16mm blowup, flood-damaged Super 8 home movies (2006) [http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/Orphans_Sound/mp3/hill.mp3 Audio, Helen Hill introducing this film]
# "Cleveland Street Gap" (2006, with Courtney Egan)
# "A Monster in New Orleans" (2006) [http://www.gothtober.com/ARCHIVE/2006/index.html Gothertober]
# More than forty Super 8 films, home movies (early 1990s - January 2007)
# "The House of Sweet Magic: Films by Helen Hill" DVD compilation (houseofsweetmagic@yahoo.com, 2008) Distributed by [http://www.peripheralproduce.com/catalog.php Peripheral Produce]
# "The Florestine Collection", in post-production with Paul Gailiunas

Also, Helen Hill appears in

• "Film Farm Dance" (2001, Becka Barker)

• "Phil’s Film Farm" (2002, John Porter; dedicated to Helen Hill)

• "Working Portraits" (2005, Maïa Cybelle Carpenter)

• "Orphan Ist." (2006, Lauren Heath, Erin Curtis, and Mike Johns)

• " [Home Movie Day New Orleans] " (2006, Kelli Shay Hicks)

• "Interview with Helen Hill at the 5th Orphan Film Symposium" (2006, Lauren Heath, Erin Curtis, and Mike Johns), in which she answers the question "What is an orphan film?"

• "Helen Hill: Celebrating a Life in Film" (2007, SCETV) [http://www.scetv.org/television/productions/southern_lens/2007Season.cfm Southern Lens, SCETV.org]

+ "One Year Later, New Orleans Grieves for Artists," 20-min. report by Noah Adams, "All Things Considered," NPR, December 25, 2007. [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17273271 NPR.org audio]

+ "Storm of Murder," [http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=3364651n CBS 48 Hours Mystery (October 13, 2007)]


• Writer Edward Sanders (of the band [http://www.thefugs.com The Fugs] ) published "Ode to Helen Hill" (2007), a 3,000-word "biographic poem on the New Orleans filmmaker," in [http://www.woodstockjournal.com/pdf/helenhill.pdf Woodstock Journal] .

• "Helen LaBelle" (1957), an animated film by Lotte Reiniger, was restored by the Deutsches Filminstitut in 2008; the restoration's end credit reads in part: "in memory of Helen Hill (1970-2007), animator and Lotte Reiniger devotee."

• "Francis Pop's Hallowe'en Parade" (2007, Francis Pop Gailiunas and Paul Gailiunas) is dedicated to Helen. [http://www.gothtober.com Gothtober]


Helen Hill was a life-long peace activist and advocate of several grassroots social justice causes. Together with her husband, Dr. Paul Gailiunas, she helped initiate the Free Food Organization in Halifax in 1996. This later became a part of Food Not Bombs and is still in operation. Also with her husband, she initiated several anti-smoking and anti-tobacco sponsorship campaigns. She was also a vegetarian and an avid animal rights activist, lending her support to rescue sanctuaries for pot-bellied pigs and other abandoned pets.

ee also

* Dinerral Shavers


External links

* [http://www.helenhill.org Helen Hill memorial website]
* [http://www.amw.com/fugitives/brief.cfm?id=42393 America's Most Wanted-Unknown Helen Hill Killer]
* [http://www.angoleiro.com/cine_texts/recipes_for_disaster_hill.pdf Helen Hill's "Recipe for Disaster" book]
* [http://www.super8porter.ca/HelenHill.htm John Porter's Memorial for Helen Hill]
* [http://www.maxinegreene.org/2007_helenhill.html Maxine Greene Foundation grant for Tribute to Helen Hill]
* [http://inscribe.iupress.org/toc/fil/19/4 "Film History" 19.4 (2007), which includes "in memoriam Helen Hill"]
* [http://redcat.org/season/0708/fv/hill.php REDCAT Theater, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jack H. Skirball Screening Series, HELEN HILL MEMORIAL (Oct. 1, 2007)]
* [http://news.renewmedia.org/2007/09/25/remembering-helen-hill/ "Remembering Helen Hill," ReNew Media News, Sept. 25, 2007]
* [http://www.02138mag.com/magazine/article/1497.html Jason Berry, "A Death in New Orleans," "02138 Magazine," Sept-Oct 2007]
* [http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/Orphans_Sound/orphans.htm Helen Hill, New Orleans filmmaker, post-Katrina home movies and animation (listen)]
* [http://www.anthologyfilmarchives.org/schedule/search/film/?id=8518 The Life & Films of Helen Hill, memorial screening at Anthology Film Archives, New York, NY, Oct. 24, 2007 ]
* [http://www.nyu.edu/orphanfilm/ Tribute to Helen Hill, 6th Orphan Film Symposium, Cantor Film Center, New York University, March 26, 2008]

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