Interviewed by Adam Hyman
Oral History Recorded: November 17, 2010
Amy Halpern is a filmmaker, cinematographer and curator. She was born and grew up in New York City on the west side of Manhattan.
As a child she frequented the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan and the Museum of Natural History. She danced from an early age, and by fourteen was a member of the dance company of Lynda Gudde, a dancer with Anna Sokolow.
At sixteen she began college at Harpur College, S.U.N.Y. Binghamton, studying with filmmakers Ken Jacobs and Larry Gottheim. It was the time that the school was an active hub for avant-garde cinema, visited by Peter Kubelka, Paul Sharits, Hollis Frampton and Ernie Gehr and others at the edge of the form. She left after a year to make her own films, working at Woman’s Day Magazine to support her labors.
Her early works include PEACH LANDSCAPE, THREE PREPARATIONS, ROLL # 1 FOR NANCY and FILAMENT (THE HANDS) - a silent film of the composer Mikis Theodorakis conducting his music, across the range of three black and white film stocks.
These films are works are intended as visual silent music. Halpern resists the term “experimental” film. She says that when she presents work it is polished and ready for an audience, not experimentation.
In 1972 Halpern was one of the four founders of the Collective for Living Cinema in New York City, an organization largely dedicated to showing new and classical avant-garde work. The Collective continued for more than a decade.
She moved to Los Angeles in 1974, where in 1975 she began to attend U.C.L.A. (B.A. and M.F.A. Film Production). While there she took classes from Professors Teshome Gabriel, Edgar Brokaw, painter Jim Doolin and Dante scholars Franco Betti and Franco Masciandaro. She also Assistant Taught sound design and rerecording, working first with with Bill Adams, then with master sound mixer Richard Portman. Her fellow filmmakers in school at the time included Michael Miner, Alex Cox, Abbe Wool, Ramon Menendez, Barbara McCullough and Ben Caldwell.
At U.C.L.A. she met filmmaker and scholar William Moritz, who encouraged Halpern to join with Beverly and Pat O’Neill, David and Diana Wilson, Roberta Friedman, Grahame Weinbren and a few others to form the Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis, an artist-run, non-profit, film exhibition series (1975-1980) hosted initially at the Haymarket at McArthur Park, briefly at U.S.C., later at L.A.I.C.A. and eventually downtown on Traction.
In 1992 she completed her feature film FALLING LESSONS, an exploded narrative, called by Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times “a stunningly sensual, life-affirming experience”.
In October 2010 she premiered ASSORTED MORSELS, a suite of short films, including ELIXIR, PALM DOWN, INJURY ON A THEME, ACCESS TO THE VIEW and THREE MINUTE HELLS.
Halpern has done many years of Hollywood lighting and shooting, from STAND AND DELIVER to TREMORS to GODZILLA 85 to THE DECAY OF FICTION. As cinematographer & gaffer she has worked with Pat O’Neill, Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, David Lebrun, Shirley Clarke, Michael Miner among others. She is a member of IATSE Local 728, the film lighting union. Halpern has done occasional teaching, teaching film history, film production and writing at various institutions in Los Angeles, including Otis-Parsons Art Institute, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Los Angeles and 7 years on the faculty of the film school at U.S.C. She has done special presentations at various places around the world. – from the reservation high schools at Four Corners, New Mexico to the Ashbal School in Damascus, Syria.
Halpern worked extensively with Ken Jacobs’ N.Y. Apparition Theater, with 3-D shadows in the early 1970s. Currently she is a member of the Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show, working with liquids. She has appeared in the films of a few colleagues, including Chick Strand, Pat O’Neill, Eugene Timiraos.
Amy Halpern is married to fellow filmmaker David Lebrun (TANKA, PROTEUS, BREAKING THE MAYA CODE, THE HOG FARM MOVIE).