of the Boston Film/Video Foundation
In 1972, Liane Brandon, co-founder of New Day Films, released
"Betty Tells Her Story." For 20 minutes, audiences listened to a
woman named Betty tell the story of her search for the perfect dress.
Twice. At first, Betty entertains viewers with the details of her search,
of her struggles with her budget, and of her ultimate triumph. The second
time through, Betty reveals her insecurity about her own image, her own
beauty. Brandon's documentary, which went on to win the Festival Award at
the Ann Arbor Festival and to earn a nomination for the preservation in
the National Film Registry, was groundbreaking in terms of its
exploration, through an individual's voice, of the role female body image
and beauty in American culture.
Marisa Creed of the Boston Film & Video Foundation talked with Ms.
Brandon this fall about the film, which still resonates with audiences
today, and the changes she's seen in the local film community since she
helped establish New Day.
MJC: Why did you decide to make the film "Betty Tells Her
BRANDON: It happened through circumstance. I was serving on a board
that was developing curricula for English teachers. The people I met with
were very interesting, but the meetings were--how should I put this
gently?--quite deadly. Except there were several people that were
absolutely fascinating and wonderful, one of whom was Betty.
MJC: How did you find out about her story originally?
BRANDON: We'd take long breaks from these meetings (mostly out of
self-preservation!), and in conversation, Betty would tell me stories. She
was a great raconteur. She told me the story about the dress, and it stuck
in my head. At the time, I was thinking about a lot of ideas concerning
women--since this was early on in the Women's Movement when it was radical
to be thinking about women and clothing, the culture and body image.
MJC: And this became the idea for a film?
BRANDON: Originally, I thought this would be great in color, acted
out as a fiction film. But that would be expensive, and when you make a
film, the expense forces you to really think through your choices.
MJC: Is that why you went with the simple, unedited stories and
style of the film?
BRANDON: Right. Part of it was economic, because color film was
more expensive at the time, and part of it was the story. The story
brought up many issues of identity and women who don't fit the mold of the
fashion model. I also realized it was the combination of Betty and her
telling of the story that got me. So Ricky Leacock loaned me his camera,
and John Terry came with me to do sound.
MJC: Did you expect Betty to give such different reactions in both
takes of the story?
BRANDON: No. I only expected the original story she told me, the
first story. But every time you shoot anything, you wonder, "Did I
get it?" And since I'd already bought three magazines of film, I
figured I might as well use them. Then during a break, John and I were
talking about how stories change in the telling, and I said to Betty,
"Is that the way you thought about the story when it happened?"
She replied, "I don't think I ever thought of how I actually felt
when it was happening." So I suggested we try it that way. I knew the
minute she started that this was different. It felt heavy, deep.
MJC: So you decided...
BRANDON: I never intended to show both versions! I spent a year
trying to figure out which version, because I knew that filmmakers didn't
do that; you always show the best take. I showed my best friend the first
and last version to help me choose which one, and we looked at both
without stopping. I looked at her and said, "Can I do this?" I
had never seen any films like this. Documentaries were usually about big
events in history; this was about our interior history.
MJC: How did Betty feel about having her feelings revealed
BRANDON: She felt a little vulnerable, but she felt that as long as
people were reacting positively towards the film, she was okay with it.
MJC: It was so different for the time. How did people receive it
when it came out in 1972?
BRANDON: Well, I showed it at a conference in Philadelphia, and it
was very controversial. I was on the stage after it was shown, and one of
the gentlemen on the panel looked at me and said, 'Why would anyone care
about a heavy woman telling the story of a dress she lost?' Whether it was
out of sheer desperation or bravado, I turned to the audience and said,
"Does anyone here understand what this film is about?" The whole
audience applauded. They got it.
MJC: What about critics and the rest of the independent community?
BRANDON: I showed it first to some women's groups to get a
reaction, and they loved it. Then Gene Siskel reviewed it, which gave it a
lot of recognition. Later, it won awards at the Ann Arbor Film Festival
and others. The Museum of Modern Art, Chicago Art Institute and the
Learning Channel featured it as well. The film was well received.
MJC: How were you notified of the nomination for the National Film
BRANDON: While on the Web, I saw that my film was going to be
screened at the Mary Pickford Theatre. I wondered why it was going to be
shown there, so I called them and they said they'd been looking for me,
because I'd been nominated! It was the Theatre for the Library of
MJC: As a woman pioneer in a man's film world 30 years ago, what
are your thoughts on women in the independent community now?
BRANDON: Oh, it's vastly different now. I was one of only three
women working in film at that time in Boston.
MJC: That's amazing. Now, you created New Day Films because you
weren't getting any distribution on your own?
BRANDON: Well, distributors used to say to me, "The Women's
Movement isn't going to last more than a year or two." They were not
interested in films by or about women. So Julia Reichert, Jim Klein,
Amalie Rothschild, and I started New Day Films, which is still thriving.
We distribute all kinds of social-issue films now.
MJC: Will you return to directing or shooting film again in the
BRANDON: I've been working for the past six years developing the
UMass Educational TV project, which is fun and creative for now.
Eventually I'll do another documentary.
MJC: Do you have contact with Betty now?
BRANDON: Sadly, Betty passed away in '91.
MJC: How do you feel about everything that has happened with
"Betty Tells Her Story"?
BRANDON: I'm very pleased, particularly because it still touches
people after 27 years. I didn't make the film to be a "classic."
I made the film to tell a story. This is like dessert for me.
For more information on Liane Brandon's films, or a catalog of New Day Films' other offerings, visit the Web site at www.newday.com
, or email the company at email@example.com