Nell Shipman — silent film writer, director and star — came to Idaho’s Priest Lake from Hollywood in 1922 with her 10-year-old son, her ill-fated lover-producer, a future Academy Award-winning cinematographer (Joseph Walker) and a personal zoo of 70 animal actors that included bobcats, bears, elk, eagles, deer and sled dogs. She was the first of her kind: a female independent filmmaker who refuted Hollywood’s mistreatment of animals and refused the assured trappings of a studio contract to instead produce her own films on location in the Idaho wilderness.
Emblematic of an entire lost generation of female producers and directors in silent film, Shipman’s legacy remained a buried treasure in film history for decades.
Professor Tom Trusky at Boise State University stumbled upon Shipman’s existence in 1984 and began a transatlantic search to restore her forgotten and brilliant body of work. His scholarship included a redigitization of Nell’s “obtainable” films from 1912 forward and the publishing of her dusty autobiography, The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart. Dr. Trusky, however, died in 2009 before he could bring Nell her deserved accolades. Once again, although somewhat remembered in her Canadian home country, the “girl from God’s country” fell into obscurity in the U.S.
Now, nearly 100 years after the zenith of Nell Shipman’s career, a new documentary by filmmaker Karen Day and an all-female crew from Idaho tells the story of this unrelenting, unrepentant artistic talent and self-reliant film pioneer. Girl From God’s Country airs Friday, November 3, at 8 PM on Idaho Public Television.
“As female filmmakers in Idaho, Nell Shipman and my all-female crew are exceptions to the norm, even in Hollywood today,” says filmmaker Karen Day. “It’s wonderful that IdahoPTV supports our artistic efforts by sharing the amazing story of this Gem State pioneer of gender equality.”
Read more about the remarkable life of Nell Shipman and the efforts to restore her forgotten and brilliant body of work here.