An Interview With Pamela Tanner-Boll, Oscar Winning Director of WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?

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Saturday night Metuchen will have the distinct honor of welcoming both an Oscar-winning director and her film to the Forum, preceded by a cocktail party at the Raconteur which she will also attend.  Kim Nagy of Wild River Review recently did an interview with Pamela Tanner-Boll and we reprint some of it here:
WRR: Was your mother an artist? 
Tanner-Boll: Well, she didn't think so. I think she was like a lot of mothers from her generation. She was always looking out for our talents.  The dark side was that she pushed us pretty hard. When she got to be older, I found out that she had been taking drawing classes in a local community class. She became head of the Art's Center and did fundraising. So she never gave herself full permission but she was always involved. 
My mother was a stay-at-home mother. I have two sisters and one brother. But I must say she was extremely involved on a civic and volunteer level. She actually became mayor in the 80's!
WRR: In your director's statement, you state your admiration for the work of creative women like Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath--but you also say that their lives scared you. Does creativity take us to a place that is a little bit dangerous--for both men and women?
Tanner Boll: Here's the thing. I think that most people who pursue the arts do so out of a need. I can't remember who said it, but "art is the attempt to solve a problem." A lot of people turn to expression to fulfill this need. Perhaps in the best of all worlds you find that you are not alone in that problem. You might be saying things that a lot of people actually feel. Yet, when you voice them you are making yourself vulnerable to attack.  That's what an artist must do.
To continue reading the article, click below.
WRR: You were 32 when you had your first child, and write that at that point the curious and emotional side of you, "the creative" roared back to life. Can you tell me a couple of stories from that time of your life?

Tanner Boll: First of all, I knew I wanted to be a mother. But I had absolutely no experience with children. I had my first child a month early and I absolutely fell in love. I of course loved my husband. But the love that I felt for this tiny baby was out of all bounds. I couldn't believe that anything could be that wholly engaging. It was the scariest thing I had ever done. Up until that point, I could always move on. With a baby that was no longer true. It was a huge frightening responsibility.

At the same time, here was this extraordinary love. Very quickly after my first, I had two more sons. I have to say it was the hardest job I have ever done. I needed to sort through these conflicting emotions of deep love combined with fear and exhaustion. 

I began to write very seriously about this. I needed to make sense of it. And I began to write a lot. But writing didn't capture the whole picture so I began to paint. 

It was an amazing gift. I was more open-hearted after my sons were born.

WRR: Tell me about the experience of meeting artist and mother Maye Torres, and how you went about choosing the rest of the women you featured in WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?

Tanner Boll: Well, I had a lot of different ideas when I first began. I worked with a friend of mine who was 16 years older than me, so in some ways I saw her as a wise older sister. She was the one who introduced me to Maye Torres, an incredible artist. At first, we were just going to do a film about Maye and present it to the New Mexico Board of Education. 

But after that, I thought that her story was bigger--and really every woman's story. I began to think that I'd like to find women from different parts of the country, different ethnic groups, and different economic levels for my film. It was very important to me to show that art is everywhere--it resides in so many different people--not just in the quote unquote talented. 

I didn't articulate those things right away--but I began finding women from all over the country. I followed my instincts. I knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to explode our presumptions about what kind of people could do art. And to explode the assumptions about economics and art because each of these women work full time at their craft. So I wanted to make that point. And then people started coming to me. 

WRR: Who Does She Think She Is points out that many successful creative women--Georgia O'Keefe, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton, Emily Dickinson, Janis Joplin--had NO children. Can you talk a little bit more about your feelings on the choices women need to make in order to pursue a life of creativity? In one interview, you said that  we "create a dichotomy between work and family" but point out  "the best work comes out of that loving presence we give where you're really paying attention to those you love." Please expand on this.

Tanner Boll: That's one of my rock bottom beliefs and I try to live it. First of all, work and family are too often at odds in this society. People seem to believe that if you aren't 100 percent productive all the time than you are not worth anything. Yet, we have  a culture that also says family is really important. Traditionally, family has been the place where workers can go and rest. Yet, the people who are making the family happen are working really hard. Typically. it falls to the women to organize all the dinners, children's schedules, to communicate with all the relatives, organize events, etc. It's hard work, but the thing is it's not considered work.

But the question you asked is about something a little different. 

I know from my own experience that when you open your heart and truly attend to the people you love, you actually release energy, that allows you to work in other areas of your life. Work and family stop being at such odds with one another. It's a magical thing, actually when you can give out your full attention-and it's a great way to collect the richest material as an artist. It may seem harder and it's certainly messier but for the men and women who pay attention to those clamoring voices at the end of the day, in the end they get so much back. 

We're fed by love. The multiplicity of our lives--is in the long run going to enrich our work.

WRR: Why is art so important in our culture?

Tanner Boll: People in the mainstream world don't want to look at the shadow side of things.  Artists understand the notion that things are ephemeral, which can be truly frightening. In a sense we have a culture that's a bit more invested in comfort than in truth. But frankly when people live cocooned lives, they stop feeling. So they turn to stimulus. Or drink a lot. They get real busy--or depressed or medicate or hide in their business.  

Often times, it is the children who are wise. We need to encourage that wisdom in every child and in ourselves--because children are open. It's important to stay open as an adult too.

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