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Always Tilting to Greet the Sun: Remembering Michelle Materre

By Bedatri D. Choudhury

Michelle Materre is an African-American woman with short gray hair. She is standing in front of the signage of the Toronto International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Julie Dash.

Michelle Materre was a filmmaker, programmer, distributor and professor. But most of all, she was a trailblazer, someone who had dedicated her life to breaking down hurdles to make roads for those who came after her. Artists of color found in her a tireless advocate and a forever inspiration. As each of these tributes reveal, Materre’s kindness brought people together in ways that inspired them to create more art. Her passionate championing of films made by filmmakers who identify as women, especially Black women, will always remain a road map. Her formidable yet comforting presence was and will always be a north star for all of us to follow.

The following tributes from Michelle Materre’s friends, colleagues, sisters, and friends mourn her loss deeply, all the while engaging in a full-throated celebration of everything she stood for, and taught the documentary community.

For 40 years, Michelle and I have been close friends. We met in the late 70’s on a Henry Hampton doc, Kinfolk: The Black Families in New Haven. We were quickly good friends and soon Michelle moved to my home town, Harlem, NYC, and we began to work on our dream of making Black movies. We formed Raven Rich Productions with the late Ellen Thornton, and made Gefion’s Plough for the Black Medical Association. 

Later, I became a director and Michelle started KJM3 distribution, then Creatively Speaking, but our bond remained as close as ever. Michelle always had a light that warmed your soul; she represented life and hope. We have talked at least three times a week for 40 years. We've traveled together, were present at each other’s weddings and cried together at funerals. We went through the loss of our parents together and enjoyed the joy in reaching our goals and reaching back to pull other folk up. This was Michelle—nurturing, brilliant and always full of new ideas. She embraced the independent voice of filmmakers of color and shed a spotlight on their work. Not only was I proud of Michelle’s accomplishments, but I was honored to call her my sista friend and share my life’s experiences with her. No words can describe how much I will miss her. I can’t imagine not picking up the phone and hearing her say, "Hi N, it’s M!" Michelle was a major force in my life and I will never get over her passing. But I will learn to live with it and find a way to talk to her through spirit. There’s a hole in our universe now that no one can fill. Michelle was one of a kind and we must celebrate her life. Rest in Power, great Warrior Queen. I’ll see you on the other side. 

Neema Barnette

A photo of three young black women and a black man, all smiling at the camera
Michelle Materre with friends, including filmmaker Neema Barnette. Courtesy of Neema Barnette.

When I learned of Michelle’s passing, as is often one’s response to an unexpected loss, I thought back to our last conversation—March 22, 2021 at 7pm EST at "Zoom Câfé."

We bemoaned the continued lockdown and commiserated over dating in virtual times.  She shared contact details for a resource for some persistent pain I was having. She also shared about her current must-sees and plans for participating on an upcoming Creatively Speaking recording.

It was a classic Michelle connection: equal parts personal and professional enrichment. And it's how she was from day one: always so open, genuine and giving of her time and her insight. Michelle felt like my favorite aunt and professor all rolled into one beautiful, spirited person, and I will miss her so. I always felt so lucky to receive an invite to join her for an impromptu dinner at her favorite French spot near The New School. She is forevermore a class act whose contributions to film, and, importantly, to Black women in film will be felt for years and years to come.

Rest easy, Michelle.

Opal H Bennett
Curator; Co-Producer, American Documentary

When Michelle and I met in the late ‘80s, not only did we become the very best of friends—she was one of the kindest, most generous, positive, and supportive people I’ve known—but we also grew to be inspired by our shared view of a Black cinema world. Michelle worked at Women Make Movies and I worked at AIVF/FIVF. I would go on to be continually and happily encouraged by Michelle’s brilliant and dynamic spirit, and her tenacity in making sure that the world saw what she saw. She believed in our people and filled our spaces with light and joy— the life of the party.

On a magical night in 1991, we visited Anthology Film Archives for a screening of Daughters of the Dust. Dazzled by the film’s essence, creativity, and striking appeal to Black women, we both left the screening realizing that there was a huge, and waiting, audience for Julie’s film. We talked about forming a film and distribution company that would specialize in culturally relevant stories like the one we had just witnessed, rooted in the realities of African-American and world communities—and then we actually did it. And I couldn’t imagine a better person with whom to embark on that journey. Michelle sparkled and charmed the filmmakers we represented, never giving up, always encouraging, working hard and long to make sure it got done. We partnered with three other African-American film and television professionals, and KJM3 Entertainment Group was born. The five of us—Michelle, me, Joi Huckaby-Rideout, Mark Walton and Marlin Adams—set out on our path to bring Daughters of the Dust to a wider, grassroots audience. Michelle was our Vice President of Creative Affairs, and the glue that held our company together.

The catalog Michelle developed contained contemporary classic independent films and videos from the African world community, and she insisted on a selection of independent shorts by young Black filmmakers who would influence the future of Black cultural expression. Her ability to bring people together let us curate a wonderful collection of features, documentaries and short films from throughout the US and the world. Michelle never gave up her advocacy and mentorship of our creative community. I worked with her in the first year of her series, Creatively Speaking, and then our professional lives diverged, although she always kept me in the loop on her work and remained one of my dearest friends and confidants. Michelle kept Creatively Speaking alive as a force for all types of independent film for the rest of her life—all while teaching and mentoring hundreds of students during her 20-year career at The New School. She shared herself with the world, holding it down at festivals, conferences, screenings, academic settings, online—everywhere. The loss to all of us is unbearable, and yet I know that Michelle’s incredible accomplishments and joie de vivre will always live within all of us who loved her. Rest well, my friend.

Kathryn Bowser
Co-founder, KJM3 Entertainment

Black and white image of a woman wearing a white shirt and dangling earrings looking at the camera and smiling
Michelle Materre with friends, including filmmaker Neema Barnette. Courtesy of Neema Barnette.

Mourning the loss of our colleague Michelle Materre offers us the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate her many contributions to the field and to our organization. Michelle served as executive director of The Flaherty from 1995 until 1998. In her first year as executive director, she oversaw the 42nd Flaherty Film Seminar, Landscapes and Place, programmed by Ruth Bradley, Kathy High and, Loretta Todd. The 1996 program has strong resonances with this year’s upcoming seminar, Continents of Drifting Clouds, and was the first Flaherty Seminar co-programmed by an Indigenous curator, Loretta Todd (Cree/Métis). Ever committed to bringing people together and reaching new audiences, Michelle was also seminal in the foundation of Flaherty on the Road. Even after her departure from her formal leadership role in recent years, she worked with us to co-present and moderate the Flaherty NYC series. 

Michelle helped us cultivate our community, foster collective inquiry, and challenge the structural and cultural dynamics that obscure the contributions of women and people of color in our industry. The absence of such a dynamic presence in our community is felt, but not yet seen. Now and in the coming years we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to maintaining the bridges Michelle built for us and cultivating the relationships that elevate and highlight the contributions of those whose work has traditionally been obscured. That is just one way we can honor and maintain the work she contributed to our field. 

Samara Chadwick, Sarie Horowitz, Aryana Alexis
The Flaherty

The loss of my friend, the extraordinary Michelle Materre, has filled my heart with sadness. She was a passionate advocate for ideas and creative practices and films directed by Black and Brown people; and she curated powerful lectures and exhibitions in unexpected ways. Michelle was gentle, kind, always moving with purpose, and was deeply loved and respected by our community. I spoke with Michelle three days before her transition and knew that it would be our last time together, but still, I am unprepared for her passing.

Today, I am remembering a beautiful spirit and the times shared; this is how we keep those we love immortal.

Ayoka Chenzira 
Diana King Endowed Professor in Film & Filmmaking, Television & Related Media, Spelman College

I knew of Michelle Materre’s work before I had the honor of making her acquaintance. She and I met more than two decades ago; it was as if meeting a long-lost friend, partially because she was always affable, collaborative, and easy to talk to. Her writings on women filmmakers and pan-African film, long before it was in vogue, bolstered my interest in the field. A long-time advocate for visual storytellers, she was dedicated to sharing the good news of artists’ work and felt a deep responsibility to remind others of its value. It was Michelle who introduced me to the wonderful work of Madeline Anderson through Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York 1968—1986 back in 2015.

Michelle was extremely supportive of aspiring filmmakers of color and worked very hard to find platforms to share their work with audiences. I recall us working together on projects when I was at the National Black Film Programming Consortium (now Black Public Media) nearly two decades ago, and later when I was a supervisory curator of film and photography at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. There were no bounds to her creativity. She was always making critical connections that married the past and present in thoughtful ways, and that offered a platform to independent filmmakers of color during critical junctures in their career. One of our last conversations occurred in 2020, when we were all squirreled away in our homes trying to stay safe, tethered to our seats and meeting over Zoom. A few of us gathered as part of a panel to discuss the importance of independent film and examine works of people like Julie Dash, Marlon Riggs, and the future of independent Diaspora cinema. Michelle’s passion for, and knowledge of, film was steadfast and unwavering. Her heartwarming smile and dedication to the craft is a beacon that will shine brightly in me and many others for years to come. Forever missed, always in our hearts.

Rhea L Combs
Director of Curatorial Affairs, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

I’m thinking of the road trip to Washington, DC, in 2009 for the first inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. I was riding shotgun in the passenger seat, Janus Adams was in the backseat, and Michelle Materre was driving her Jeep. By 2009, I had known Michelle for over 20 years, and I feel like I’ve known and loved her for my entire lifetime. Our association began while she was working at Women Make Movies. After that, we soon became fast friends. Michelle and her associates at KJM3 created a distribution plan for my first feature film, Daughters of the Dust. We worked with Kay Shaw and successfully rolled the film out across the country with only 13 prints. We remain forever grateful for Michelle and team KJM3 for the initial run of Daughters of the Dust in 1992; it would not have been a success without them.

Julie Dash

When I first started programming in NYC, I didn’t exactly feel embraced by the repertory film community. Michelle Materre was one of the first people to reach out to welcome me, and she quickly became a friend and mentor. With Michelle, I found someone who inherently understood what I wanted to do because it was what she had long advocated for. She blazed a trail for me and so many programmers who believed art could build and fortify communities. Michelle was also a personal inspiration—a beautiful, vibrant, sexy Black woman who was as fun and joyful as she was passionate about the work. The last time I saw her was February 2020, at a dinner I hosted to celebrate Black women curators. My heart breaks at the thought that I won’t share space with her again, but I find some solace in remembering that last night we had together in fellowship, openly loving and caring for each other. The NYC film community lost a legend—a phenomenal woman with a generous spirit. She understood what was possible if we worked together. May we all be a little more like Michelle and open our arms to all who enter this space. 

Thank you, Michelle. 

Gina Duncan
President, Brooklyn Academy of Music

I met Michelle at the beginning of my career, at a time when I had no idea how to turn a master's degree in cinema studies into a job that pays. I just knew I wanted to support indie voices. I had been called into ETV for a job interview and about 15 minutes into the interview, the executive director and I both knew I didn't have enough production experience for the job. As I was leaving the office, Michelle Materre, who was working there at the time, stopped me. She introduced herself, invited me to sit by her desk, and we started chatting. She asked me several questions, none of which I can remember clearly now, but the sincerity of her intention was clear. She wanted to help me find a way to enter the industry. She gave me her contact information, along with a job lead. She told me, "Tell them Michelle Materre sent you." That impromptu meeting led to my first nonprofit media arts job. 

My story about Michelle is NOT unique. Check the Facebook tributes and you’ll see countless versions of it. She was a connector, a promoter, a mentor, a friend, a confidante, a colleague, a caregiver, and more. She understood why Black films need special attention when it comes to distribution and engagement, and she recognized the need to fill the industry pipeline with Black people who weren’t just filmmakers. There are multiple generations of filmmakers, curators, distributors, and media arts administrators whose lives and careers have been impacted simply because Michelle took the time to listen and to care. 

Her example offers life lessons for us all. My condolences to Michelle’s family and friends. Rest in Power, Michelle.  Love, Leslie.

Leslie Fields-Cruz
Executive Director, Black Public Media

I first met Michelle 13 years ago when I was teaching part time at The New School. I was a recent transplant to NYC from Chicago, didn’t know anyone, and was in an uncertain place in my career. I can’t remember exactly how I met Michelle, but it was like she was just there one day—this immensely kind and generous soul who took me under her wing and instantly offered herself as advocate and friend. No matter who you were or what your title was, Michelle treated you like a peer and a collaborator. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been included in some of her visionary programming over the years.

In addition to her work as a producer, programmer, and educator, Michelle was also just a fantastic person to be around. The impressiveness of her resume doesn’t capture how wonderfully down to earth and joyous she was. My favorite memories of her are the times when we met for drinks in Fort Greene and cracked jokes and gossiped, or traded stories about Chicago, or gushed about movies. I always left our get-togethers feeling like we could have talked for another few hours: there was just never enough time to soak in all of the intelligence and warmth that she radiated. I’ll miss her—her laugh, her smile, the sound of her voice—tremendously.  

Racquel Gates
Associate Professor of Film, Columbia University

A black and white image of a group of people standing at an event
L-R: Mark Walton (KJM3), Kathryn Bowser, Michelle Materre, Grace Blake, Ayoka Chenzira, Julie Dash, Pearl Bowser, Marlin Adams (KJM3), Malika Lee Whitney, Kojo Ade. Kneeling: Diahnne Abbott. Photo by Risasi Dias.

Michelle loved film and she loved us. I’m not sure I know anyone else who expressed that quite the way she did. She believed in our stories, in our artistry, our vision, our brilliance and our talents. She was tirelessly and unwaveringly dedicated to our films being seen and celebrated. She was an accomplished producer and writer, and was decades ahead of the curve when she co-founded a marketing/distribution company to amplify multicultural films from throughout the diaspora. The cinematic landscape through her eyes was one where we shined, where we had nothing to prove, excellence was a given, and we had all the agency to express ourselves in our myriad unique voices, aesthetics, style and content. She celebrated and supported and championed us, unequivocally. 

In my own career—in my life, really—she was as unwavering in her support and belief in me. She was a mentor and champion, cheering and celebrating every achievement, and a confidante and advisor during some of my most doubtful and despairing moments. She honored me with frequent invitations to speak at her Creatively Speaking film series, panels, and classes, and I’m pretty sure she programmed every one of my films over the years! I am sure there are many more who can attest to being met with the enthusiasm, joy, generosity, and dedication I felt whenever we collaborated. 

Best of all, most of all, I got to call her friend—with whom I celebrated, confided, commiserated, giggled, and had many belly laughs. She was a beautiful woman with smiling eyes, whose gaze always made you feel warm, and welcomed, and loved.   

I am so blessed to have you in my life (present tense). We are all so blessed. Rest in eternal peace and love, my friend. Thank you for everything. 

Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
Documentary Filmmaker; Co-chair, Black Documentary Collective

I have been having a hard time pinning down when I first met Michelle Materre. I believe she programmed my film, or we were on a panel together, but I honestly can’t recall. She quickly became one of those folks in my life who was ever-present. We shared a kinship, not only as curators and cultural workers, but as Tauruses with family roots in Chicago, and I was always impressed with her programming acumen. Not living in New York, I wasn’t as close to her as I wish I’d been, but through others, I knew of her legendary kindness, generosity and mentorship. She was as a constant and encouraging presence at BlackStar and other events since I entered our field nearly two decades ago. In recent years, we invited her to participate in the festival as a panelist, and we served together on the jury for the inaugural Smithsonian African American Film Festival in 2018. I last talked to her in spring 2020, when she deftly moderated a conversation that NYWIFT organized, called "Reimagining Film Festivals in a Time of Crisis," and I remember being struck by her optimism and high spirits at a time when so many of us were feeling uneasy and terrified. She was a beatific presence and I’m going to miss her. I think we all will.

Maori Karmael Holmes
Founder & CEO, BlackStar Projects

A tireless champion of artists and their films against the steepest of odds, Michelle Materre brought warmth, humor, brilliance, resourcefulness, and practicality to her many roles, including as a film professor, producer, mentor, host, journalist and curator. In Michelle, these qualities combined with a rare elegance, grace and seriousness that seemed to me almost regal—although that can’t be the right word, because it implies a classism antithetical to her vibrantly democratic values, projects, and spirit. But still…I suppose you could say she was democratically regal

Among other programs, Michelle founded the film screening and discussion series Creatively Speaking, which she hosted for more than 25 years. I find myself smiling as I think of that lovely program name: it strikes me as earnest and sincere, passionately communicating her values and what ultimately drew her interest across many different areas of intellectual and historical inquiry and study. I appreciated and admired Michelle’s leadership and her dedicated work exploring, documenting, sharing, and celebrating creative expression. I will carry her with me, and am grateful for her example. Trying to live up to it is, to me, a worthy goal.

Livia Bloom Ingram
Vice President, Icarus Films 

A visionary who saw film programming as an act of education, activism, and community -building, Michelle Materre was also a disarmingly kind person. Fair and kind. Mentioning this may seem like an aside, divorced from her work. However, the ruthless competitiveness that has taken hold in film programming of late somehow evaded Michelle, who was years ahead of everyone else, whose work spoke for itself. To collaborate with Michelle was an experience of fair patience. 

I’m thinking of her former students, colleagues, collaborators, friends and family, because the abrupt end to her life and work leaves a massive void. But she handed everyone the tools to pick things up where she left off—again, an act of kindness. I’ll miss knowing which films mattered to her lately, or just hearing her laugh, seeing her smile. But the work of making a sustainable film community continues, which Michelle was integral in helping build.

Michael Lieberman
Head of US Publicity, MUBI

Losing ground. That is the feeling of Michelle Materre’s untimely passing. She was an educator to her core. She shared. She employed her intelligence and empathy to bring people together, whether it was to engage with a film or be in conversation. Rather than call people out, she called people in. "Hey, honey," she’d say, and then lay out the truth, unvarnished, yet with kindness and respect. She helped us make connections, to know one and another, and build a better community. She made sense of our crazy business, and road-mapped all the fabulous women of color in it—past, present, and with her eye on the future. Just as important, she shared her/their/our films and stories. She’d say, "You know who you need to talk to," and then help you make the introductions. The price was to pay it forward, participate in programs, stay connected. With these seemingly simple, consistent, and thoughtful acts, and her many, many programs, she encouraged so many of us to keep making. Through her collecting and sharing, she educated us.

The sadness of Michelle’s loss is heavy, unshakable. In my own career and life, I feel extremely lucky to have counted her as a colleague but also a mentor, sister and friend. I took for granted that she would always be there. I already miss her laugh, her vibrance. I hope she knew how much she meant to me, and so many of us. I also hope we don’t lose too much ground. We will disappoint her if we do.

Shola Lynch
Filmmaker; Curator, Moving Image & Recorded Sound, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Three middle-aged women standing, one holding a bouquet of flowers and one presenting a plaque
Councilwoman Tish James honoring Michelle Materre with New York City’s Pioneer Award, at the Reel Sisters Film Festival, 2012, with Neyda Martinez. Courtesy of Carolyn A Butts.

To be seen and loved by Michelle was to bear witness to the power of her grace, feminine essence, and the undying love she felt for all people. Hers was a commitment to find ways to help students and colleagues reach their heart’s desires and full potential.  

Michelle hailed from the South Side of Chicago—the Chatham neighborhood, to be precise. In her high school years, Michelle was one of the first students to break the color barrier at the prestigious Latin School in Chicago, Illinois before she left for college at Antioch College and later, Boston College. Her family’s matriarch was an entrepreneurial innovator in the Black haircare industry. Indeed, Michelle was one-of-a kind, but in her world, women like her are not rare; they’re the norm. 

Rejecting narratives of marginalization, toxic pigmentocracy, self-pity or victimhood, Michelle understood there was an underserved and under-resourced market for the films and curated experiences she offered for over two decades with her signature program, Creatively Speaking. Her focus was to highlight African American cinema by emerging, mid-career and seasoned filmmakers including the Caribbean, and the Global South, as well as work by women.  

Michelle championed countless filmmakers. Her expertise became central to her pedagogy. For over 20 years as part of the faculty of The New School, she became known for her courses: Race, Ethnicity and Class in Media and Film Distribution and New Media.

Our beloved Michelle inspired eternal hope and optimism. Hers was a desire to have a hand in cultivating a vibrant, strong, and self-reliant creative community and healthy ecosystem. Embodying a tireless can-do spirit, Michelle loved life and lived up to what I perceive was her purpose and mission: to educate, to build community, to uplift the rich multiverse of Black stories and to celebrate and showcase the varied talent, capacity and creativity of diverse filmmakers and women overlooked by the mainstream. 

Michelle cared deeply and wanted everyone to feel the safety and protection of a warm blanket. In the end, Michelle made the humane decisions that the late Toni Morrison asked of us: "...the function of freedom is to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else." And Michelle, ever the lady, donning invisible silk gloves, did her part with the utmost dignity and respect. How? With a simple: "Hi, Honey, how are you?" "What do you need? How can I help you?" An honest "I’ve missed you," or a sincere "I need you." 

Michelle, we miss you. We will miss how your beautiful smile tilted to greet the sun. You will forever live in our hearts. 

Neyda Martinez
Independent Producer
Associate Professor, Interim Program Director, Media Management Graduate Program, The New School
Former Co-curator and Co-producer, Creatively Speaking film series. 

Michelle Materre was a wonderful friend and colleague for over 30 years. Her support of my work and documentary filmmakers was invaluable. Her knowledge of film and insight into filmmaking, publicity, and impact had an effect on so many. But above all else, I will always remember her smile and her laugh. She was a positive presence at all times under all types of pressure. She is in my heart, she will be missed.

Stanley Nelson
Filmmaker; Founder, Firelight Media

What I remember most about Michelle is her smile. It wasn't the "lights up a room" kind, but rather there was something very calming about it. With her there—and that smile—you knew that things would be all right.

Although we worked together on a number of projects during my time at Lincoln Center, we never worked more closely, or more intensely, than we did on the 1993 series Modern Days and Ancient Nights, which turned out to be the first edition of what would become the New York African Film Festival. There were millions of details and dealing with filmmakers from all over the continent. Having Michelle with us—with me and my co-curator, Mahen Bonetti—brought a wonderful level of professionalism and passion to what was, for all of us, a project we wanted so much to succeed. And succeed it did: the series, which ran for a month, wound up having 71% attendance, and more than anything else, put the Walter Reade Theater on New York's cultural map.

I never saw Michelle as much as I would have liked, especially after I left Lincoln Center, but when I did see her, there was always that smile.

Richard Peña
Director Emeritus, New York Film Festival
Professor of Film and Media Studies, Columbia University

Michelle Materre was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, and an inspiration. I deliberately use Michelle's full name because she should be known to all, not only those of us blessed by a personal relationship. I deliberately do not say "my friend, my mentor, my teacher, my inspiration"; while Michelle was that to me, there are so many other people she was that for, too. Before I can acknowledge how much she meant to me personally, I must first acknowledge what she meant to so many friends and students, to the community, to activism and culture.

Michelle took me under her wing as soon as we met and I began assisting on her extraordinary Creatively Speaking programs at BAM. This was rare in my experience as a young programmer. Established, accomplished people like Michelle were not necessarily in the habit of being so generous and encouraging. I soon realized that to not be generous and encouraging was not in Michelle's nature. A decade after meeting, it was with absolute pleasure that we worked alongside each other co-programming Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York, 1968-1986, and every day, I would stand by with awe as Michelle conducted Q&A's and greeted the astounding group of filmmakers and writers and critics that only she could have assembled—a tribute to how much esteem she was held in by her contemporaries. 

Michelle's programming was not only about what was on the screen (or in program notes), it had to reach an audience, and that audience had to be engaged with. I see Michelle now with her trusted clipboard—welcoming the audience: "Good afternoon" or "Good evening" before an introduction that would list highlights from the participants' career, set the stage, and bring people in closer. Be it an audience of two people or 200, Michelle was always there to listen to anyone who wanted to speak, anyone who had a question. The most extraordinary moments I have spent in a theater have been at Michelle's programs.

Michelle was also a confidant, and I will forever miss her exclamatory "Jake!" in agreement to my saying "OK, am I the only one who thinks..." I will miss the calls, about what ideas we had for programs, or what shows we were watching. I will miss the emojis. I will miss seeing Michelle in the audience at screenings and at significant milestones in my life that we shared together.

Films will continue to be programmed, classes taught, knowledge and experience shared unselfishly towards uplifting and enlightening others, and as long as committed, important work is done with a pure heart, everyone should honor and remember the life and work of Michelle Materre, as I will remember, with love, my dear friend.

Jake Perlin
Programmer, Distributor

It is unbelievably tragic that we have lost Michelle Materre. She was a huge presence in our world and an immense promoter of Black women and BIPOC filmmakers. Experienced in all aspects of the field, she always had brilliant curatorial ideas that brought BIPOC independent films and makers, including Third World Newsreel’s, into the light, winning the Film Heritage Award twice with Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York, 1968-1986 (with Jake Perlin, Film Society of Lincoln Center 2015) and her 2017 series One Way or Another: Black Women’s Cinema, 1970-1991 (with Nellie Killian and BAMcinematek). Always ahead of her time, she was an early champion of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, and her company was the first to market it. A great speaker, she led many public seminars with TWN, and was our Distribution Director in the 2000s. But most of all, she was a warm, welcoming, and encouraging beacon for emerging filmmakers, working as a producer, teaching at The New School, serving on numerous boards, and producing her Creatively Speaking series. We thought and hoped that she would power through all this and keep going. We will miss her.   

JT Takagi
Executive Director, Third World Newsreel

I was lucky enough to have hired Michelle Materre in 1987, less than five years after I became the executive director of Women Make Movies. From the start, we were partners working together to turn WMM’s fiscal sponsorship program into what is now: the Production Assistance Program, giving filmmakers the tailored support they need to learn, develop and grow. Michelle’s generosity of spirit was, and still is, the backbone of that program, which was launched by helping Julie Dash fundraise for Daughters of the Dust. But Julie was just the first of hundreds, probably thousands, of filmmakers that Michelle advised, mentored, befriended, assisted and supported. Her impact on the field of independent filmmaking, and in particular her advocacy for women and BIPOC filmmakers, is enormous and structural. KJM3 Media, the company she co-founded, played a pivotal role in proving to the public what Michelle already knew: that films by Black women were commercially viable and deserved serious, critical attention. She was an organizer, programmer and curator—her brilliant series at BAMcinematek, One Way or Another: Black Women Filmmakers 1970-1991, was awarded the Film Heritage Award of 2017 by the National Society of Film Critics and acknowledged by critic Richard Brody as "The Best Repertory Series of 2017." She was beloved by all at The New School, where she was a professor and mentored countless students and a tireless advocate for creating and bringing curriculum about BIPOC filmmaking into academia. 

Michelle was my very dear friend, my colleague, my trusted advisor and so much more.  Throughout all of her other endeavors, she remained an integral part of the organization and became a long-time Board member and, most recently, Board Chair. WMM is the organization it is in good part because of Michelle. She was a leader like few others: full of grace, wisdom and the joy of living. Over the past week, we have gotten emails, social media comments, and messages about the impact she had on interns and filmmakers, not to mention the reflections staff and board members have shared about the love and care she gave to all. And what she gave us at WMM and the entire independent filmmaking community will reverberate for a long time. Before she passed away Michelle told me, "We still have so much work to do." All of us at WMM pledge to keep on doing it. 

Debra Zimmermann
Executive Director, Women Make Movies