UC Santa Cruz film professor wins 'Academy Award'

Associate professor of film and digital media Shelley Stamp has been named one of two 2003 Academy Film Scholars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-the same folks who bring us the Academy Awards.

Stamp will receive $25,000 from the Academy to complete a book about silent film director/screenwriter/actress Lois Weber. The Film Scholars Program was created in 1999 "to stimulate and support the creation of new, innovative and significant works of film scholarship about cultural, educational, historical, theoretical, or scientific aspects of theatrical motion pictures."

"I was stunned when I heard the news; I never imagined I would win," said Stamp. "But I'm so grateful that the Academy is recognizing research on early women filmmakers. What a thrill it will be to 'thank the Academy' at the awards luncheon."

Stamp was selected to receive this year's award along with Thomas Doherty, chair of the Film Studies Program at Brandeis University. They are the fourth pair of film scholars to be honored by the Grants Committee of the Academy Foundation, whose members include cinematographers, directors, producers, actors, and writers. Stamp is also the youngest scholar and second woman ever granted such an award.

"Only established scholars, writers, historians and researchers with a significant record of achievement were considered for the grants," noted Grants Committee Chair Janet MacLachlan.

The two Academy Film Scholars will receive the first half of their grants at a December 11 luncheon hosted by the Academy at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. Following the completion of their manuscripts, they will present their projects at a public Academy event.

Stamp's project focuses on Lois Weber, a female director of the silent-film era who became the first and only woman granted membership in the Motion Picture Directors Association, a precursor to the Directors Guild of America. Despite achieving widespread fame during the early 1900s, Weber has been mostly neglected by film historians.

"Her reputation has not survived as well as those of other prominent silent film directors such as D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille," Stamp noted. "But in the 1910s, Weber would have been included along with them in any mention of the industry's top directors. Until very recently, her filmmaking legacy was largely lost."

Stamp said that Weber's career spotlights the importance of activist filmmaking in the early years of the American film industry.

"Weber was a director/screenwriter who made films about social problems in the 1910s," Stamp explained. "She took on all of the hot button issues of the decade, including contraception, capital punishment, drug abuse, religious intolerance, and labor issues. Her career flourished during a period when the industry was open to activist filmmakers. By the '20s, that era was largely gone, as the industry shifted more towards glamour, entertainment, and escapism."

Stamp added that during the 1910s and early '20s, women held a degree of influence in Hollywood that remains unmatched even today.

"Weber was extremely well known and well respected in her lifetime," Stamp said. "For a time, she was the highest paid director in Hollywood, and she was a celebrity of sorts, profiled in movie fan magazines, women's magazines, and national newspapers. By looking at her career and work, I can trace the cultural history of early Hollywood and women's important place there."

Stamp said she would use her grant to cover travel expenses for conducting research at film archives, as well as to help her take time off to write the book. She has already traveled to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the National Film Archives in London, the Nederlands Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Academy's own archive in Los Angeles in order to examine original scripts, promotional materials, industry trade publications, and rare archival film prints. Ultimately, Stamp's book, "Lois Weber in Early Hollywood," will be published by University of California Press.