Sebastopol Center for the Arts presents Oscar-winning film editor, Vivien Hillgrove

By Gil Mansergh 


Have you ever had to figure out the best way to feature a bowler hat as a sensuous erotic toy, or decide how scenes of nude acrobats walking on their hands should be edited? Or have you ever been handed 400 hours of film, and asked to edit it down to a 90-minute documentary? You can learn first hand how the world-class film editor Vivien Hillgrove answered these artistic and professional challenges (and how you can make your own movie better) at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts on the evening of July 11th.

“I’ve had the joyful opportunity of working with some of the finest movie directors and actors of all time,” Vivien says modestly. “For example, I was supervising dialog editor on Milos Forman’s “Amadeus,” and we had to record some of Salieri’s dialogue again. I was concerned because the character aged so much over the course of the movie, but as soon as F. Murray Abraham got in front of the microphone he transformed before my eyes. For the first scene, he was a youthful, creative young man—boldly pronouncing his opinions as facts. Then, for the next scene, the gifted actor melted into the worn-out body of an old man whose frail voice evoked uncertainty and doubt. It was amazing to watch, and fun to edit.”*

Other feature films Vivien has edited the dialogue on include Francis Ford Coppola’s “One From the Heart,” David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” Peter Weir’s “The Mosquito Coast,” Carrol Ballard’s “Never Cry Wolf,” and Philip Kaufman’s “The Right Stuff.” She was picture editor on Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” and “Henry and June.

Vivien relocated to Sonoma County nearly 20 years ago because: “I wanted to live in a place where I could grow roots.” She also made an artistic and aesthetic shift towards documentary film editing. “Most often,” Vivien says, “a documentary doesn’t have a script—it has a kernal or two of an idea and lots and lots of film.” To illustrate her point, she gestures to a cork-covered wall covered with slips of paper. This is the “storyboard” for a work in progress— a documentary for which the director has shot over 400 hours of film. “My first task is just to get a handle on the project,” Vivien says as she pulls three-ring binders from a nearby bookshelf. “See? Here is all the footage featuring one particular person. Here is another featuring a particular set of images—like fields of grain or something similar and here,” she pauses as she pulls out another binder,  “here is an annotated list of all the quotes the different filmed experts have to say about a particular topic. These are all the little puzzle pieces, organized for me to use as they are needed.”
And does all this organization and indexing and cross referencing work? The proof is in the final product. Vivien has edited six documentary films by Lourdes Portillo including “Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena” and “Senorita Estravianda,” which won a special jury prize at Sundance and the 2002 International Documentary Award. Her other documentaries include “Yakoana, First Person Plural” (POV), “Heart of the Sea” (Independent Lens) and “The Future of Food,” advising the public on genetically modified food. Her current projects include a POV documentaqry on international adoption, and another on regenerative agriculture.

But awards aside, the best testimony comes from the directors who get to work with Vivien. For as director Anh Dudley Crutcher once said: “We had been working on [“Yakoana”] for five years and really focusing and concentrating and thinking about editing and storyline and plot and tempo, and all of this stuff, and I had been thinking about all of the little pieces, but really all I had been doing was clearing a space in the forest. And, miraculously [when the movie was finished], the indigenous people came and it was like they had edited it. It was theirs. I really felt that. I couldn’t see my fingerprints or Vivien’s fingerprints on it at all. And that’s a large credit to her. She’s brilliant.”

Vivien Hillgrove will show clips from her films to illustrate her editing secrets (and why they work), how music impacts a scene, and the ease and delight of editing in this digital age. “Film Editing: Putting the Puzzle Together,” is at 7:30, July 11th at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 6780 Depot Street, Sebastopol, 95472.  For $15 tickets call (707) 829-4797 or email lindag@sonic.net.

*      F. Murray Abraham won the 1984 Academy Award for Best Actor, and the sound editing team won another of the movie’s eight Oscars for their work on “Amadeus.”

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