Half the History: Janice Lourie

by Isabel Fernandez

Mentor: Jennifer Burton, Film and Media Studies; funding source: Nathan Gantcher Student Summer Scholars Fund


My research for the Summer Scholars program stemmed from my interest in representation in the media and how it can influence whose legacy gets preserved in our collective memory, as well as in written or audiovisual history. Working with Professor Jennifer Burton on the anthology film “Half the History” made perfect sense to me. “Half the History” aims to tell the under-told stories of exceptional women in American history because “knowing them enriches our understanding of the past and present, and opens up new possibilities for our future” (Half The History).

I worked on the section of the film that focuses on Janice Lourie – an exceptional inventor, artist, and computer scientist. The immense responsibility of authoring a part of a project that will preserve Lourie’s legacy and aims to communicate the wide impact of her work is not something I took lightly.

A large portion of my research centered around learning as much as I possibly could about Janice Lourie in order to create a list of carefully chosen questions to ask her in an interview. When preparing for an interview my mentor, Professor Jennifer Burton, stressed that the interviewer must try to get to know the subject “better than they know themselves.” This included reading Lourie’s biography, listening to recordings of previous interviews conducted by Dina Deitsch and Liz Canter, learning about her patents and work at IBM, looking at all kinds of archival footage, and immersing myself in her artwork.

An important part of my preparation also included learning how to professionally and effectively lead an on-camera interview. There is a certain art to crafting questions that are not leading, but are specific enough to ensure you get the information you need to make a cohesive, engaging film. There is also the question of how to make sure the person being interviewed stays on topic, repeats part of the question in their answer[1], and also provides succinct versions of some of their longer answers[2].

When putting together the interview and studio footage, audio, animation, graphics, photographs, archival footage, and digital versions of Lourie’s art, I grappled with a series of questions. How do you craft a film that will accurately portray a life and legacy as textured, interdisciplinary and substantial as Lourie’s? In what ways can we illustrate the fascinating and varied intersections between her love of weaving, music, invention, technology, math, photography, philosophy, and weaving through filmic language and storytelling?

The two short films I worked on are currently on display in the Aidekman Arts Center and contextualize an exhibition of Lourie’s work. Getting to meet Janice Lourie at her studio, ask her about her life and practice, and have conversations with her – even if through K-95 masks and from a distance of at least six feet or more – was an extraordinary honor and a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am deeply grateful for.

[1] This will ensure that their answers are in complete sentences and can be used on their own without including the interviewer’s voice in the final film.

[2] Doing so will provide us, the filmmakers, with more options to choose from in the editing room when assembling the final film.

3 thoughts on “Half the History: Janice Lourie

  • October 23, 2020 at 7:19 pm

    You called on so many different parts of yourself to do this project: a filmmaker, a biographer, and a journalist, among others. What an amazing opportunity to tell the story of an amazing woman! Great job!

  • October 23, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Such a cool project, Isa! I was really interested in the part where you talk about how to craft questions for an on-camera interview, that was something I had not really thought about before. I am so glad that despite COVID you were still able to do some filming. Well done!

  • October 29, 2020 at 1:02 am

    Nice to read how your interests and skills came together in the project, Isa. It’s been a pleasure working with you this summer and I look forward to seeing the films you’ll make moving forward!

Leave a Reply