PSer Lille Fleshler uses her fascinating family history as a basis for her senior thesis project

 By Lillie Fleshler, '13

I never knew my great-aunt Helen. She died before I was born. I always knew I had a relative who had been involved in the film world, but never really understood to what extent. I only began to learn more about her when I became a film student. Her past somehow validated my present, and provided me with the boost of confidence I needed to take on new and challenging endeavors.

Throughout the next few years, I gathered more and more information about her. She worked at the New York French Film office in the 1960’s. She developed a close friendship with infamous film director Francois Truffaut. She collaborated with him on a successful book about Alfred Hitchcock. She passed along early drafts of Bonnie and Clyde to the right people. As these seeds of information were planted in my mind, my interest slowly began to grow. In the spring of 2012, I could no longer suppress my intrigue.

I didn’t know where to begin, but I knew I needed to find the right people. I searched and found one of Francois Truffaut’s daughters, Eva, on Twitter, and tweeted a picture of a postcard her father had sent to my aunt. I had no expectations for her response, so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t receive one.

Fast-forward 206 days later, in what seemed like a twist of fate, I opened my computer to a notification with her response: “Cool!” We began communicating and she put me in touch with her older sister, Laura. Around this time, my capstone film thesis class was approaching, and I was panicking. I knew I wanted to produce a documentary, but about what? All of a sudden, the idea practically fell into my lap: Helen.

I began learning everything I could about her. Laura put me into contact with various well-known film critics, scholars, and directors. She sent me photographs, articles, and letters upon letters from Helen to her father. Their correspondence was fascinating. I decided there had to be compelling narrative lying within them, and I wanted to bring it to the screen.

Now here I am, three months of hard work and grant applications later, about to leave for Paris with my partner, fellow Park Scholar Erin Irby. We have been working tirelessly on what we hope will be an intriguing short film chronicling my Aunt Helen’s correspondence and friendship with Francois Truffaut. We will be visiting and interviewing Truffaut’s ex-wife, seeing where Helen and Francois were buried, and scouring the archives at the cinémathéque.

As incredible as this is, it’s been quite the daunting task to undertake. There were times in the beginning where I thought, “Can I really do this?” Countless moments of doubt and fear have arisen at every corner. Luckily, my peers and Ithaca community have been nothing but supportive. They constantly remind me of all that I have accomplished so far, and assure me that this is a challenge well worth the undertaking. I can now say without a doubt, that I would not have had the confidence, drive, or passion to take on a project such as this, without the unrelenting support of the Park Scholar Program. As I pack my bags for our upcoming journey, all I can do is thank my lucky stars for Twitter.


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