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In Memoriam: Beth Bird - Filmmaker, Former IDA Board Member

By Tom White

Courtesy of Betti-Sue Hertz

Beth Bird—filmmaker, activist, educator, scholar, former IDA Board member, wife, mother—passed away on March 28; she had been struggling with cancer. She was 54.

Beth, by all accounts, was both a passionate advocate and a compassionate listener. She pursued her life and her art with an open heart and an open mind. Her educational trajectory—from Brown University to CalArts to UC Irvine to UC Berkeley—laid the foundation for her filmmaking practice, one for which she earned multiple awards. Her 2004 film Everyone Their Grain of Sand documented the impact of globalization on land ownership in the Tijuana, Mexico region, and her 1995 work Love Knows No Borders reflected her commitment to marriage equality. She earned kudos over the course of her 20-year teaching career, inspiring the next generation of artists at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, California College of the Arts and San Francisco Art Institute. And as an IDA Board Member, who served a full, nine-year tour of duty, she challenged her colleagues and the IDA staff alike to be true to the organizational mission and vision.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to Beth’s wife, Betti-Sue Hertz; their son, Mateus Zacharia Hertz-Bird; Beth’s brother, Timothy Lyman Bird (Rebecca MacDonald); and her nieces, Siena Rose MacDonald Bird and Grace Elizabeth Stanton Bird. And to Beth, gratitude and lovingkindness.

We reached out to a selection of friends and comrades to share their thoughts.

During the years we served together on the IDA Board of Directors, Beth was working on her PhD at Berkeley, and would often join our LA meetings via conference line. If the board was deliberating on a complex issue and seemingly stuck, the voice of Beth would beam in with the wisdom, sensitivity, and non-nonsense practicality needed to move us closer to a decision. Zoom wasn’t a daily deal then, but looking back, I wish it had been because then I could have seen more of Beth being Beth. An artist-activist, she illuminated social-justice issues for over two decades. The mantra Beth lived and created by is best summed up by the title of her LGBTQ+ documentary Love Knows No Borders. Although we deeply miss her, I trust Beth is now continuing her soul mission of Love, on some higher level, with no borders.

—Gilda Brasch, Filmmaker; IDA Board of Directors—2009-2017

When people describe Beth Bird, the most common phrase is, “Beth was a force of nature.” And indeed, Beth’s willpower, energy and focus were in a class of their own.

Many people in the documentary community know Beth through her brilliant film Everyone Their Grain of Sand, about the Tijuana community Maclovio Rojas’ battle to access water, electricity and education. The film mirrors the values Beth manifested throughout her life: self-determination, equity and persistence. Like the subjects in her film, she was fearless and she always tackled a challenge head-on, versus opting for an easier path. Many people use the words “value-driven,” but Beth truly provided a living example.

Beth was a fierce champion for what she held dear—whether it was fighting for the people she loved, for the IDA as a Board Member, for her film, for your film, or for any community who wasn’t getting a seat at the table. Passionate about language, she relished articulating an idea or a point of view with skilled precision and specificity. When it came to showing up for people or causes, Beth was able to show up in a quiet and subtle way, or charge in on horseback and take no prisoners. She possessed a unique fire, and it was amazing to witness and to feel.

As her friend, Beth modeled for me and many others how to reflect on what’s truly at stake, so it’s possible to embark on a path of action led by integrity. For the rest of my life, I will be inspired by her commitment to justice, to action and to kindness.

—Laura Nix, Filmmaker

I met Beth when I joined the Board of IDA in 2009, where Beth had served for a few years before me. It was immediately clear to me that she was a force of nature—measured and eminently respectful in her ways, but fierce, clear-sighted and unwavering in her passion and commitment to the work. She was always deeply thoughtful about the decisions before us. She took the work seriously and was a true advocate for the filmmakers we served. I learned an immense amount about what it meant to be a good leader from Beth. I admired the way she could be like a dog with a bone—not always, but whenever it really mattered.

The years we shared on the Board were a time of enormous growth and transformation for IDA—a professionalization of the organization under the leadership of two seasoned executive directors: Michael Lumpkin and Simon Kilmurry. We all went through growing pains together, as we pushed the organization to be more. Beth’s contributions during this time were a critical piece of the dramatic evolution of IDA that we’ve seen in the last 10 years. So much of this work happens unseen and unrecognized by the larger field, and is important to acknowledge.

I’ll remember her most for her for her passion, her enthusiasm, her intellect and her laugh. And for the extraordinary pride she had in her family and her son. My thoughts are with them especially. I know I speak for all our colleagues in sending them our deepest condolences.

—Marjan Safinia, Filmmaker; IDA Board President, 2012-2017

Beth Bird was a fierce force. She had passion. She had ideas. If she didn't like your idea, she was going to tell you, straight up—or ask you to explain it much better than you had. All of which made her an important voice on the IDA's Board of Directors during a pivotal time as the organization, documentaries, and our culture itself moved into a 21st-century digital world. This meant our programs and our core missions were always up for re-examination: Were we truly serving our community? Accessible to all who were interested? Could we do things better? These are the questions I recall Beth being concerned with, and rightly so. Wherever her path continued beyond IDA, I imagined her sticking to her principles and pursuing the answers to key questions in life and work. So I was struck and truly saddened to hear of her recent and untimely loss. Any organization, community and family she was a part of, most especially her very own, will surely feel that loss and carry her memory forward. IDA is fortunate to have had the time with her that we did, and her distinctive voice in the room when we needed it. 

—Eddie Schmidt, Filmmaker; IDA Board President, 2009-2011