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by Judy Branfman

On Bill of Rights Day (December 15th – who knew!) the local Fox station did a story on my great-aunt Yetta’s precendent-setting free speech case – and my documentary about it. I’m not quite done with the film but this milestone of a huge TV viewership for my work took me back to the beginning of the filmmaking journey: my trip to Hedgebrook.

Hedgebrook accepted me, having published only a couple journalistic essays about art and politics in New England. But I had a passionate dream of turning my aunt’s story into a documentary film. Her activism evolved into the US Supreme Court’s first affirmation of free speech rights and helped lay the groundwork for our right to protest and dissent, but my potential “star,” aunt Yetta, had been telling me “no” for years and even questioning if I had the “right” to tell her story. Even so, I had been driving around Southern California doing research in courthouses and small-town archives – and even started getting grants for the project. And I had also started doing interviews for a somewhat related book.

So there I was at Hedgebrook after my first internet-fueled research trip up the west coast. In my Hedgebrook mailbox was a greeting for me from Ann the cook, off for the day: “I think my father-in-law knew your aunt – he lives in Seattle.” I knew I was in the right place – and I completely fell apart…

Surrounded by people who made a living writing and having this miraculous support for my dream, I started getting sick with mysterious cramps. I spent the first couple of cold January days standing outside next to Hedgebrook’s one pay phone trying to find a doctor!

A week of running down to the bay and a transforming massage from my cooking muse made it clear my symptoms were really the attack of the voices in my head that were going to try, at any cost, to prevent me from being heard. It was as if my aunt’s voice was living inside me, “Who gave you the right?” What a little revelation that was.

Hedgebrook was the invitation to bring my projects out into the world. It has been quite a journey and learning to live with those voices, with all their wild messages, has been as much a part of my filmmaking process as learning to edit. In fact, some of those voices are now in the film!

The Fox-LA story is online. You can see my aunt and I arguing, and other choice quotes from and about my film, “The Land of Orange Groves & Jails” on Facebook.

I’d love to hear what you think! And if you have any suggestions for finishing funds, please pass those on as well. Judy Branfman <branfman@ucla.edu>

Judy Branfman
About Judy Branfman

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