Two groundbreaking independent films of the women’s movement by Liane Brandon, professor emeritus of education, have been restored and will be screened Nov. 7 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of its celebration of its ongoing relationship with New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT).
The films by Brandon that will be presented are Anything You Want to Be (1971) and Betty Tells Her Story (1972). They have been selected for preservation and screening through the Women’s Film Preservation Fund which was founded by the Museum of Modern Art and NYWIFT in order to safeguard the cultural legacy of women in the film industry.
Both films have won multiple awards and have inspired countless discussions of gender-role stereotyping, self-image, and cultural perception.
At the time Brandon started making films in the late 1960s, there were few women making independent films and even fewer who were dealing specifically with women’s political issues. Her works, which were distributed widely, established that women had an important role to play in the predominantly male independent film movement. Both titles have become milestones in the women’s movement, have been screened extensively in festivals around the world, and continue to be used in school and university film and social studies curricula.
Released in 1971, Anything You Want to Be became a landmark in both the women’s and political film movements. It features a bright high school girl who is repeatedly told that she can be “anything you want to be” but who repeatedly, and humorously, collides with sex-role stereotypes. It was one of the first films to examine the external pressures and the more subtle, internal pressures a girl faces in finding her identity.
Betty Tells Her Story was one of the earliest non-fiction films to give voice to an individual (not famous or glamorous) woman. This 1972 documentary explores contemporary culture’s emphasis on female beauty. Betty describes in delightful detail the saga of her search for “the perfect dress” and why she never got to wear it. Later, when asked to tell her story again, it is strikingly different. While the facts remain the same, Betty’s underlying feelings emerge. The contrast between the two stories is haunting.
Betty Tells Her Story received national recognition a year later when critic Gene Siskel wrote about it in the Chicago Tribune and invited Brandon to discuss it with him on his nationally syndicated radio program. He liked the film so much that he programmed it at a screening in Chicago with Jack Nicholson’s Drive He Said as his two favorite films of the year.
With roots in the Bread and Roses collective of the late 1960s, Brandon’s work coincided with other key seeds of the women’s movement. At that time there was very little media attention given to grass roots organizing and consciousness raising efforts, and the press largely ignored the fundamental issues in favor of publicity stunts and other sensational events. The work of Brandon and other innovators helped counteract these images and broadened the appeal and scope of the women’s movement.
Brandon, who is also a photographer, taught in the UMass Amherst College of Education from 1973 until her retirement in 2004. She is a co-founder of New Day Films, a nationally known feminist/social issue cooperative that has pioneered in the distribution of films and videos about women, and a founding member of FilmWomen of Boston, and Boston Film/Video Foundation. Before becoming a filmmaker Brandon was a ski instructor, high school teacher and professional stunt woman.
Her still photography credits include the PBS productions of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Typhoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman In America and Murder at Harvard.
Brandon’s classic films, which include Anything You Want To Be, Betty Tells Her Story and Once Upon A Choice, have received numerous national and international honors and have been presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Whitney Museum, Chicago Art Institute and the Museum of Modern Art and have also been featured on HBO, USA Cable and Cinemax. Her other films include How to Prevent A Nuclear War and Sometimes I Wonder Who I Am. They are distributed by New Day Films.