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350th Anniversary Programming at the Boston Public Library

Documentary Film Series: Pioneering Jewish Women

A series of four documentary screenings with guest directors and film subjects will be held at the Boston Public Library, Johnson Building Auditorium, on Tuesday evenings at 6 PM, from April 20 — May 11, 2004. Screenings are free.

The Boston Jewish Film Festival is proud to curate a series of documentaries as part of the Jewish Women's Archive's "Celebration of 350 Years of Jewish Women Building Communities in North America." The documentary film series Pioneering Jewish Women features four films about contemporary American Jewish women who have broken new ground and forged paths for those of us who would follow. These women—a young environmentalist, a middle-aged lesbian couple, an octogenarian pioneer dance therapist, and the first female president of Guyana—have remained true to themselves while acting in the spirit of tikkun olam. We hope that these stories of pioneering Jewish women move, challenge, delight, and inspire you.

Ruthie and Connie

Tuesday, April 20, 6:00 p.m.
Director: Deborah Dickson
USA, 2002, 55 min., English, documentary
In person: Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz

They're Jewish, they're grandmothers, and they're lesbians. Two middle-class, Jewish housewives dare to take their relationship out of the closet and become inspiring social activists.


In 1959, Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz were both married mothers, raising their young children in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. They lived in the same apartment building, attended the same synagogue, and shared a commitment to their community. Fifteen years later they found themselves with a passion for social justice that would turn them into activists, and a passion for one another that would turn their lives upside down. Following their hearts, Ruthie and Connie chose to pay the price to be together and be themselves. After nearly 30 years, Ruthie and Connie's relationship is still going strong—and their commitment to community organizing has made them national heroines. Three-time Oscar®-nominee Deborah Dickson's "unconventional valentine" traces Ruthie and Connie's 40 years together as friends, lovers, and activists against a backdrop of ever-changing social and legal attitudes.

For more information about Ruth and Connie, please visit their website at This screening is co-sponsored by OUTmedia.

This film is a Women Make Movies release.

Blue Vinyl

Tuesday, April 27, 6:00 p.m.
Directors: Judith Helfand / Daniel B. Gold
USA, 2001, 98 min., English, documentary
In person: Director Judith Helfand
Co-presented in memory of Susan Bailis by The Silent Spring Institute and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition

Judith Helfand's parents' home improvement project—covering their suburban Long Island home with blue vinyl siding—kicks off the award-winning filmmaker's engaging and powerful investigation into the health and environmental impact of vinyl manufacturing.

Remarkably, given the subject matter, Blue Vinyl is consistently lively and entertaining—the film has won numerous Audience Awards and a Sundance Documentary Award for Excellence in Cinematography—even as Judith uncovers increasing evidence that vinyl manufacturing poses a serious health hazard. Judith travels to Lake Charles, Louisiana, the vinyl capital of America; to Venice, Italy; and to her parent's home again, where she presents them with an environmentally safe alternative. Moving seamlessly from the personal to the political, Blue Vinyl raises questions about the risks versus benefits of economic progress, and sounds a warning and a call to action.

For more information, please visit

This film is a Toxic Comedy Pictures production.

A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner

Tuesday, May 4, 6:00 p.m.
Directors: Ian Brownell and Webb Wilcoxen
USA, 1998, 70 min., English, documentary
In person: Director Ian Brownell and Norma Canner

Norma Canner and the Dance Therapy Movement

Norma Canner may have given up a promising acting career to marry and raise a family, but the decision was all for the best. She went on to become a pioneer in the Dance Therapy Movement.

People of all ages and all manner of handicaps and emotional difficulties have benefited from working with this charismatic woman who uses movement and art as a catalyst for self-discovery, change, and healing. Her work with blind, deaf, and autistic children has become a model in the field. Directed by local filmmakers Ian Brownell and Webb Wilcoxen, A Time to Dance traces the evolution of her career from the Broadway stage in the late 1930s, to her groundbreaking work in creative movement with disabled and mentally retarded children in the 1960s, to her current dance therapy work with adults. Now in her eighties, Norma Canner lives in Cambridge and is still dancing.

For more information about this film, please visit Bushy Theater.

Thunder in Guyana

Tuesday, May 11, 6:00 p.m.
Director: Suzanne Wasserman
USA, 2003, 58 min., English, documentary
In person: Director Suzanne Wasserman

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

When, at the age of 77, Janet Rosenberg Jagan was elected president of the South American country of Guyana in 1997, she scored two firsts. A Jewish woman from Chicago, she became the first American-born woman to lead a nation, and the first and only woman to serve as president of Guyana.

Considered by some to be the "mother of the nation," Janet moved to Guyana in the 1940s with her husband, Guyana native Dr. Cheddi Jagan, and together they founded the socialist People's Progressive Party. In this fascinating documentary, Janet Jagan's cousin, distinguished historian Suzanne Wasserman, deftly interweaves the threads of the filmmaker's family, her cousin's incredible life story, and the complex history of Guyana. Thunder in Guyana won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2003 Boston Jewish Film Festival.

This film is a Women Make Movies release.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "350th Anniversary Programming at the Boston Public Library." (Viewed on January 19, 2018) <>.


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