Ellen Spiro

Ellen Spiro

Infobox Person

image_size = 122px
caption = Documentary Filmmaker
birth_date =
birth_place = New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S. flagicon|USA
parents = Jack and Marilyn Spiro of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Ellen Spiro (born 1964) is an American documentary filmmaker. Spiro, who often works as a one person crew, is known for making humorous social issue films.

Spiro's award-winning films have been shown broadcast on television worldwide on PBS, HBO, BBC, CBC and NHK [ [http://rtf.utexas.edu/faculty/spiro/ Department of Radio, Television and Film faculty pages] at The University of Texas at Austin. 2007-1. Retrieved on 2007-6-27. 30.] and in the art world, including multiple screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum Biennial exhibition.

Spiro has been awarded The Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television’s Gracie Award for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Documentary, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Jerome Foundation Fellowship, a commendation from the Texas State Legislature (Senate Resolution 545) [Texas State Legislature, [http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/80R/billtext/html/SR00545F.htm Senate Resolution 545.] 2007-3-27. Retrieved on 2007-6-27. ] and is a two-time Rockefeller Fellowship recipient. Her works are housed in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Peabody Collection of the Museum of Television and Radio and the New York Public Library.


Like the subjects she choose, Spiro’s style of filmmaking is considered innovative and “off-the-grid” by her peers. Spiro articulates her philosophy of filmmaking in an article for The Independent Film and Video Monthly, "The Medium Is The Missed Age". Spiro argues that key to good video is not the lines of resolution or the number of pixels or the particular camera used, but an inventive and resourceful use of natural lighting, camera movement and composition. [Spiro, Ellen. [http://www.scrabo.com/spiro.htm The Medium Is The Missed Age] . The Independent Film and Video Monthly. 2000-3. Retrieved on 2007-6-25.]

Creative History

Education and Early Influences (through-1992)

Spiro studied with the artist Holly Wright, who exposed her to fine art photography at the University of Virginia. Seeking the opportunity to search out stories on her own, Spiro left UVA after three years of study to take a job as the photography editor for the local weekly newspaper, the Charlottesville Observer, where she wrote and created photo essays. During this time, Spiro became interested in cinematic storytelling and moved to Buffalo, New York where she earned her undergraduate degree (Cum Laude and with departmental honors) [2] and graduate degrees from the Center for Media Studies at State University of New York, Buffalo (S.U.N.Y.). At S.U.N.Y, Spiro also studied Women’s Studies with Michele Wallace. While in Buffalo, she joined a flourishing community of independent media artists who shared ideas, inspiration and information and became involved with community media though work with Hallwalls Art Gallery and Squeaky Wheel Media Center. In Buffalo, Spiro made a series of experimental films under the guidance of filmmakers Tony Conrad and Paul Sharits. Because of the prohibitive cost of film, Spiro began working in video when Sony 8mm video cameras became readily available.

In 1988 Spiro was awarded a post-graduate fellowship in Manhattan to study art and critical theory in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. While in Manhattan, Spiro studied with Hal Foster and Douglas Crimp and was a cinematographer for experimental filmmaker Yvonne Rainer’s award winning film, "Privilege".

While in New York, Spiro became active in the AIDS activist organization ACT-UP and co-founded DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activist Television). While working with ACT-UP Spiro made her first documentary, Diana’s Hair Ego, which was the first small format 8mm video to be broadcast on national television.

Filmmaking on the Road and Pioneering Video Format for the Mainstream (1993–2002)

In 1993 Spiro was awarded funding from ITVS, the Independent Television Service, for her film Greetings From Out Here. Filming as a one woman crew, she lived in a van for a year while traveling across the Deep South to shoot stories of gay and lesbian southerners. Using small Hi-8 video equipment and a converted old van as a mobile living and production unit Spiro immersed herself in her environment allowing her to stay with her subjects for long periods. "Greetings From Out Here" was the first ITVS program to be broadcast nationally and received an invitation to the Sundance Film Festival. It was acquired for international broadcasts by BBC, Channel Four, Canadian Broadcasting Company and others.

In 1994, Spiro took her first full time teaching position at Hampshire College where she taught video production and Gender Studies. After teaching for a year she embarked on her second year-long solo road trip (this time in a vintage Airstream trailer), to make Roam Sweet Home, funded by Channel Four in the UK and ITVS.

After the national broadcast of Roam Sweet Home on PBS, Spiro moved to Austin, Texas and became a professor in the Radio-TV-Film Department the University of Texas.

In 2000 Spiro joined producer Karen Bernstein to start Mobilus Media, a non-profit production company to make social issue documentaries.


In 2002, Spiro and Bernstein produced their first documentary for HBO, Atomic Ed and the Black Hole. Spiro also created the 10 Under 10 Film Festival in Austin, TX. The festival is “a celebration of raw creativity, real reality – as opposed to the scripted television kind – and founded on the notion that great ideas can happen on no budget and in little time." [Lewis, Anne S. [http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:471805 Spiro's Experiment: The Austin Film Society Documentary Tour: 10 Under 10 and Its First Five Years.] The Austin Chronicle. 2007-5-4.] As a film professor at the University of Texas, Spiro says she’s watched too many students get caught in the "film school debt romance" [5] and challenges a new generation of filmmakers to make films with "little money but lots of substance and inventiveness" [5] .

In 2003 the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health approached Spiro and Bernstein to make a film about the mental health care crisis for children in Texas. The resulting film, Are the Kids Alright?, won an Emmy Award and recognition from the Mental Health Association of Texas.

In 2005 Spiro and Bernstein produced Troop 1500, about a group of Girl Scouts with mothers in prison. Troop 1500 won two Gracie Awards, for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Documentary, from the American Women in Radio and Television.

In 2006, Ellen Spiro was awarded an artist's residency at the Bellagio Center, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, in Bellagio, Italy. She also began working with Phil Donahue on Body of War, a film about paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. Body of War premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the People's Choice Award (runner-up) and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival. [ [http://hamptonsfilmfest.org/?m=200710 2007 Hamptons International Film Festival Awards] Hamptons International Film Festival official website. Retrieved on 10/29/07.] In November 2007, Body of War named as one of fifteen films to be considered for nomination for an Academy Award. [Melidonian, Teni. [http://www.oscars.org/press/pressreleases/2007/07.11.19.html 15 Docs Move Ahead in 2007 Oscar Race] Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences official website. 2007-11-19. Retrieved on 2007-12-3.] In December, Body of War was named Best Documentary of 2007 by the National Board of Review. [ [http://www.nbrmp.org/awards/awards.cfm?award=Best%20Documentary National Board of Review of Motion Pictures :: Awards] National Board of Review official website. Retrieved on 01/02/08.]


Body of War (2007)

Troop 1500 (2005)

Are the Kids Alright? (2003)

Atomic Ed and the Black Hole (2002)

Roam Sweet Home (1996)

Greetings From Out Here (1993)

Diana’a Hair Ego (1991)

External links

* [http://imdb.com/name/nm0819074/ Ellen Spiro] at the Internet Movie Database
* [http://www.vdb.org/smackn.acgi$artistdetail?SPIROE Ellen Spiro] in the [http://www.vdb.org/ Video Data Bank]


Johnson, Jerry. [http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/vol17/issue10/screens.spiro.html Roam Sweet Home.] Austin Chronicle. 1997-11-7. Retrieved on 2007-6-18.
Karnasiewicz, Sarah. [http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2006/03/21/troop_1500/index.html Tough Cookies.] Salon.com. 2006-3-21. Retrieved on 2007-6-18.
MacDonald, Scott. [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520242718 A Critical Cinema IV: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers.] University of California Press. 2005. Retrieved on 2007-6-18.
Renew Media. [http://mediaartists.org/content.php?sec=update&sub=interview&interview_id=48 An Interview with Ellen Spiro.] MediaArtists.org. 2007-2. Retrieved on 2007-6-18.


Acosta, Belinda. [http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:262230 The Redeemers: Ellen Spiro on 'Troop 1500', Her Story of Girl Scouts and the Incarcerated Mothers Who Love Them.] The Austin Chronicle. 2005-3-11. Retrieved on 2007-6-25.

MacDonald, Scott. [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520227387 The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place.] University of California Press. 2001. Retrieved on 2007-7-6.

Montegomery, Matt. [http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/1995/December/ERdec.11/12_11_95aids_videos.html AIDS Videos Document History of Grass Roots Organization.] Emory Report. 1995-12. Retrieved on 2007-6-25.
* [http://www.itvs.org/pressroom/pressRelease.htm?pressId=3 Roam Sweet Home: ITVS presents Ellen Spiro's Inside Look at Life on the Road.] Independent Television Service. 1997-5-28. Retrieved on 2007-6-25.

Scheib, Ronnie. [http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117926534.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&query=ellen+spiro Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Behind Bars.] Variety. 2005-3-15. Retrieved on 2007-6-25.


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