Palcy, Euzhan 1957(?)-

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Palcy, Euzhan 1957(?)-

PERSONAL:

Born January 13, 1958 (some sources say 1957), in Fort de France, Martinique; daughter of Romauld and Leon Palcy. Education: Sorbonne, B.A., 1983; Louis Lumière School of Cinema, Paris, France, earned degree, 1984.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—Ada Babino, 115 V. St. N.W., Washington, DC 20001.

CAREER:

Film director, producer, and writer. Producer of films Simeon, 1992, and Wings against the Wind, 1998; producer of television documentary Aimé Césaire: un voix pour l'histoire, 1994, and television movie Ruby Bridges Story, 1997. Director of films Sugar Cane Alley, 1984, A Dry White Season, 1989, The Ruby Bridges Story, 1998, Wings against the Wind, 1998, and The Killing Yard, 2001. Has also worked as an actress, appearing in La Messagère, as a film editor in Paris, France, and as a television program host in Martinique.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival, 1983, and César Award (France) for best first film, 1984, for La Rue cases nègres; Orson Welles Prize for special cinematic achievement, Political Film Society, 1989, and PFS Award, 1990, both for A Dry White Season; Candace Award, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, 1990; Golden Senghor for best director from Ouagadougou Film Festival, Golden Senghor for best director, Silver Raven from Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film, Prix de la Jeunesse from Milan Film Festival, and Ban Zil Kreol Award from Montréal Film Festival, all 1993, all for Siméon; Christopher Award (with others), 1999, for Ruby Bridges.

WRITINGS:


SCREENPLAYS


La Messagère (television documentary; title means "The Messenger"), 1974.

L'Atelier du diable (television documentary; title means "The Devil's Workshop"), 1982.

La Rue cases nègres (based on a novel by Josef Zobel; title means "Black Shack Alley"; also known as Sugar Cane Alley), 1983.

(With Colin Welland) A Dry White Season (based on the book by André Brink), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1989.

Hassane (television documentary), 1990.

Siméon, 1992.

Aimé Césaire: un voix pour l'histoire (television documentary), 1994.

The Ruby Bridges Story (television program), Disney Channel, 1997.

(Coauthor) Wings against the Wind, 1998.

Also author of poetry and children's songs.

SIDELIGHTS:

Euzhan Palcy is an award-winning movie director and writer best known for such films as La Rue cases nègres (also known as Sugar Cane Alley) and A Dry White Season. These seminal works broke racial barriers: the former showing that general audiences were indeed happy to watch a dramatic film that featured black characters, and the latter being the first film produced by a major American studio that was directed by a black woman.

Growing up in Martinique, a French colony without local film or theater production, though it was swamped by an incessant flow of American media, Palcy became determined to be a filmmaker who created real images of her people. When she was a teenager, her success as a poet and songwriter led to her being asked to do a weekly poetry program on local television. While at the television station, Palcy, who was just seventeen at the time, wrote, directed, and performed in a fifty-two-minute film titled La Messagère ("The Messenger"). The drama, which centers on the relationship between a girl and her grandmother, and which explores the lives of workers on a banana plantation, was the first West Indian production mounted in Martinique.

Recognizing that to pursue a career as a filmmaker she would have to leave Martinique, Palcy moved to Paris in 1974. She went to film school, studied French literature at the highly competitive Sorbonne, worked as a film editor, and, for the first time, exchanged views with young African filmmakers. During this time she continued to revise her screenplay for Sugar Cane Alley. As she became acquainted with members of the French film community, Palcy received encouragement from New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut and his collaborator Suzanne Shiffman. Her work as an apprentice paid off. In 1982 the French government provided partial funding for the film. To secure funding from French television, one of the film's coproducers, Palcy wrote and directed a short titled L'Atelier du diable ("The Devil's Workshop"), which traces an outline of the story that would be told in Palcy's first feature.

Palcy seized upon the subject for her first full-length film when as a girl she read La Rue cases nègres, a novel by Martinique author Josef Zobel. This novel had a big impact on Palcy, for it was the first time in her life she had encountered work by a black writer— moreover, a black writer from her own country. Palcy's own experience growing up in Martinique, and her years of living with the story resulted in a production that clearly shows how familiar she was with her subject. It is the story of a poor black boy's coming of age as he survives the effects of the French colonial system because of his grandmother's courage and the wisdom of Mr. Medouze, an aged storyteller who introduces him to African and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Because of their help, the boy is able to attend a good school and discover a life beyond the plantation.

Critics who reviewed Sugar Cane Alley were most appreciative of Palcy's ability to convey a strong sense of place. As Janet Maslin put it in a New York Times review: "Slowly but carefully, Miss Palcy creates a sense of the time, the place, the traditions and the state of racial relations in the shantytown of the title." Stanley Kauffmann, writing for the New Republic, commented: "The very familiarity of the story enhances its loveliness in the hands of a filmmaker who understands absolutely everything about the lives she is touching." Kauffmann added: "Palcy's fundamental achievement is to infuse her film with this communal spirit. Her people are joined by common interests, pleasures, hardships. Everything joins them together."

Following the international success of Sugar Cane Alley, and returning to a subject that had been at the heart of another novel central to her growing up, Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country, Palcy worked to secure financing for a film about apartheid as seen from one little girl's viewpoint. Eventually recognizing that it was almost impossible to secure funding for a film without a central white character, she became part of a project that took as its source André Brink's novel A Dry White Season. A Dry White Season follows a white South African schoolteacher as he is drawn into the antiapartheid movement, and it shows the filmmaker's efforts to bring the experience of black South Africans to the foreground. The film eliminates the novel's account of an affair between the schoolteacher (played by Donald Sutherland) and a proactive journalist (played by Susan Sarandon), and instead provides audiences with more detailed characterizations of the black South Africans involved.

John Simon, writing in the National Review, felt that eliminating the part in the original novel about the affair was a mistake, and that spending more time on the black characters, in addition to the white ones, results in all of them being "spread … so thin that everyone, black or white, ends up superficial." Noting that A Dry White Season was not a huge hit with American audiences, Nation contributor Stuart Klawans reasoned that this was due to the film's rather grim message of "‘Do the right thing, then die'—not a welcome lesson for most American audiences, but convincing enough, because of both the setting and the director." A number of reviewers compared Palcy's film to similar works on apartheid: Cry Freedom and A World Apart. Film critic Richard Schickel, writing in Time, felt that A Dry White Season "lacks both the epic ambition of Richard Attenborough's Freedom and the psychological delicacy of Chris Menges’ World. Emotionally, however, it has a force unmatched by the other movies on this subject."

Since A Dry White Season, Palcy has produced more films and documentaries for television than for the big screen, but her interests remain largely the same. For example, one of her productions, Siméon, returns to a Caribbean setting, working to make, as Palcy has always intended, films with real images of her people.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


BOOKS


International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

PERIODICALS


American Visions, August, 2000, Karani Marcia Leslie, "Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy—A Palette of Passion," p. 40.

Essence, October, 1989, Martha Southgate, "Euzhan Palcy, the Director of A Dry White Season, May Well Be the First Black Woman Ever to Direct a Major Studio Film," p. 31.

Nation, October 30, 1989, Stuart Klawans, review of A Dry White Season, p. 505.

National Review, October 27, 1989, John Simon, review of A Dry White Season, p. 56.

New Republic, April 30, 1984, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Sugar Cane Alley, p. 26; October 9, 1989, Stanley Kauffmann, review of A Dry White Season, p. 24.

New York Times, April 6, 1984, Janet Maslin, "Sugar Cane Alley, in Martinique"; September 20, 1989, Janet Maslin, "Review/Film; Sutherland Catches on to Apartheid Slowly," review of A Dry White Season.

People, September 25, 1989, Ralph Novak, review of A Dry White Season, p. 16; October 16, 1989, Irene Lacher, "Euzhan Palcy Has a Face the Camera Loves but Finds the View Better behind the Lens," p. 71.

Time, September 25, 1989, Richard Schickel, review of A Dry White Season, p. 78.

Variety, September 24, 2001, Eddie Cockrell, review of The Killing Yard, p. 32.

ONLINE


Euzhan Palcy Home Page,http://www.euzhanpalcy.com (July 14, 2006).

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