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REVIEWS of "Grace Paley: Collected Shorts"

Judith Thurman, author, Isak Dinesen:
“The Life of a Storyteller”
National Book Award for Non-Fiction

“The film is absolutely beautiful – beautifully made, full of soul, a wonderful visual biography.”

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Grace Paley: How to Be A Great Writer While Spending Half Your Life Picketing, Leafleting, Sitting In, Teaching Out, and Getting Arrested
By Nora Eisenberg AlterNet

For those of us who followed the art and life of writer/activist Grace Paley, it is hard to believe she has been gone almost four years. A year of memorials all around the country replayed her spirited activism and arrests, her wild and wise stories, and her remarkable face, which maintained into age and infirmity a child's quick smile and mischievous gaze.    Click for more

Then, as the year of memorials ended, yearly memorial celebrations began sprouting throughout the country, and promise to continue. Now Lilly Rivlin’s vibrant film Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, which premiered in July at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and has screened to sold–out audiences since, picking up festival awards along the way, celebrates Paley again. Fittingly, Rivlin’s film bounces with the voice and image of Grace and family, friends and colleagues reminiscing about the Grace they knew—small, playful and adorable but an inimitable powerhouse, whose art and activism shook up the world of letters and the halls of power.

Collected Shorts is clearly partisan, an homage infused with the affection and awe of a friend and co–activist. So we are spared figures up on the screen complaining, as some critics have, of Paley’s divided self, squandering her time as an artist on politics or sullying her art with political themes, combing her texts for the line where art ends and polemics begin. The people in Rivlin’s film all get Grace (as she is widely called, even in her NY Times obituary). They know that for Grace Paley, art and social consciousness and activism were more largely indivisible. She never liked the words, “I want to be a writer,” she says in one scene. Rather, like her friends from youth on, she wanted to do something of “use” to the world. And she did in different forms with equal dedication and passion.

Social justice in Paley’s stories is never cant but felt experience. In “The Long-Distance Runner,” Faith Darwin, the central character in many Paley stories, realizes her ignorance and assumptions about black people living in what was once her old Jewish neighborhood, opening her eyes and learning “as though she were still a child.”

In “Zagrowsky Tells,” the bigoted Jewish protagonist confronts his own racism when his disturbed daughter gives birth to a black baby, who is left in his care and whom he learns to love and defend: “A person looks at my Emanuel and says, Hey! He's not altogether from the white race, what's going on? I'll tell you what's going on. Life is going on.”

In “Living,” Faith sums up the condition of women in her life, telling a dying friend that she’s dying too, and it’s no big loss: “Life isn’t that great...We’ve had nothing but crummy days and crummy guys and no money...and cockroaches and nothing to do on Sunday but take the kids to Central Park and row on that lousy lake....”

But for the most part, her stories challenge exploitation not by taking it up as a subject directly, but by revealing the originality and energy of everyday people trying to get by. Her gutsy, candid characters, especially women characters, was unheard of in the late 1950s, when her stories blasted through the thick walls of white, male–dominated publishing. Paley’s sense of justice and humane sensibilities, about race and class in particular, are rooted in her own family’s secular Jewish radical ideas and personal experience. Escaping the Czar’s wars, and jailings for their socialist activity, her parents, Isaac and Manya Goodside (pre–Ellis Island Gutseit) arrived in 1905 when they both were 18, a child bride and groom quickly producing their own children and raising them with few resources. But Grace appeared much later. The film shows Grace speaking of being born into a middle–class family, while her brother and sister, 14 and 16 years her senior, were born and raised in a family that was decidedly working class.

By the time Grace arrived, her mother and aunt’s years of work in garment factories had put her father through school, allowing her to be born a doctor’s daughter. Paley speaks of her sister, Jeanne, how she named her Grace, read her poems, praised her child’s poems (while her own poems stayed hidden in a drawer) and all in all how one sister “watered” so the other could “flower.” In “The Immigrant Story,” a character asks how it feels to know that your life was advanced in “the shadow of another person’s sorrow.” So much of Paley’s work expresses that indebtedness and appreciation, her bond with what another character in the story calls “ancestral grief.”

Collected Shorts shows us Grace’s more direct activism as well. Friends like Dave McReynolds and Esther Broner reminisce about the “combative pacifist” and “cooperative anarchist,” as Grace described herself, a Village fixture at her regular table at 6th Avenue and 13th Street, strewn with peace literature and petitions. Grace’s daughter, Nora Paley, remembers her pride when her mother was jailed in the Women’s House of Detention for civil disobedience during the Vietnam War–making her a star among the other Village kids.

As Paley’s involvement with the women’s movement grew, her peace activism transformed, as did that of so many women pacifists, not only in its ideas but in its forms. Protest, in these women’s hands, became an art form of its own. The film shows Grace and hundreds of women at the 1980 Women’s Pentagon Action, weaving the doors of the Pentagon closed with yarn, only to have the police snip the weaving before the women weave once more. Rivlin shows us scenes of this impromptu art in which the agents of the male military machine become performers, destroying the women’s weavings to end war and save life—and then rough up the women before hauling them away. But not before Grace read the Women’s Unity Statement she had composed for the event: The Pentagon and the multinationals and banks it serves are connected by “gold and oil.” The women there were connected by other things — “of blood and bone...of the sweet resource, water.”

Besides footage and still photographs of Paley in different places and times. Rivlin blends in period photos showing Jim Crow, sexism, poverty and war, amplifying our vision of the world in which Paley’s sensibilities and work developed. Extraordinary watercolors by Vera B. Williams, the Caldecott illustrator and author (A Chair for My Mother), and a longtime friend and political co–activist, enhance the visual background. Williams’ images (all but one which she painted for the film) come from Long Walks and Intimate Talks, a book the two friends published in 1991. Williams’ paintings echo Paley’s poems and stories and vice versa, with images of women chained to kitchen sinks, immigrant men working in garment factories, children bouncing with joy. As Paley wrote in the introduction, the work (and the War Resisters’ League date book it drew on) was intended “by its happiness and sadness” to “demonstrate against militarists, racists, earth poisoners, women haters and all destroyers of days.”

Grace Paley began and ended her literary career with poetry, and Rivlin’s film begins and ends with Grace reading from her poem, “The Responsibility of the Poet.” Art and activism are one here, joining to fix a world broken by injustice, war, greed and cruelty. It is a fierce poem, putting the future of the world in the hands of brave women and men with the courage to protect life as women do.

It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric….
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the Quakers say
It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the powerless
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no freedom without justice and this means economic justice and love justice….
There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
to keep an eye on this world
and cry out like Cassandra,
but be listened to this time.

At the recent screening at the NY Jewish Film Festival I attended, many in the audience were Grace’s old New York friends. Like characters in Paley’s stories, they were a vocal lot. The lights were hardly back on when they started talking, telling stories to the audience, in the formal Q&A and in lively asides too, about this arrest and that action, stopping only when forced to, because they were holding up the next film’s screening. The talk continued in the lobby and on the street, and, I imagined, on the subway rides home, and on the phone later, and at some meeting or rally, before too long.

There were young people in the audience as well, and it is fair to say that the Grace recorded in Collected Shorts will inspire generations to come to find their own daring voices to render the joys and sorrows in their lives, and to discover the courage to speak truth to power and to the haters and poisoners who would destroy all our days.

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Still Amazing: Grace Paley on Film
By Judith Mahoney Pasternak, WIN Magazine

“It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman … to cry out like Cassandra … ” Grace Paley (1922–2007) asserted in one of her best-known poems.

Grace fulfilled those responsibilities and more. (She was always “Grace” to the hundreds who knew her and to most of the thousands who knew any face of her many–sided career, even to the writer of her obituary in the New York Times.) A poet and short–story writer whose work is an essential part of the 20th–century canon, she was also an educator who helped many aspiring writers find their own voices. Yet she was equally famous as the “combative pacifist” and “cooperative anarchist” who climbed fences and trespassed onto the property of the mighty, who served jail time for those actions more times than she could count, and who also used her talent anonymously, to draft eloquent statements for groups and efforts with which she was involved. Not least of all, she was a passionately loving daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend.

Grace may have been uniquely gifted in her ability to maintain all those selves at once and seamlessly; certainly no other writer of her stature has ever compiled such an extensive arrest record, at least in the cause of peace and justice. (For most of her activist life, the War Resisters League was her political home base.) She left us too soon, in 2007 at age 84. Now some of those who knew and loved her have created two documentary films of her life, bringing her back to us for an hour or two.

Grace Paley: Collected Shorts is a luminous tribute to Grace in all her aspects. Grace and her friends and family talk about her family life, her career as a writer and teacher, and her work as an activist. She discusses her childhood as Grace Goodside, youngest child of Russian radicals who had been exiled to Siberia but freed with many others at the birth of a son to Tsar Nicholas. She speaks with warmth about her first husband, camera operator Jess Paley, whom she married in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of World War II and who was the father of her children Nora and Danny. She talks about the lives of the women she knew in Greenwich Village, where she lived, and of her increasing need to tell their stories. She talks about the stories themselves, eventually collected in The Little Disturbances of Man, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, and Later the Same Day, which were inspired, she says, by the lives of the women she knew in the community. Novelist Alice Walker, critic Vivian Gornick, and other writers talk about the significance of the stories; still others about her influence on them when they were her students.    Click for more

Grace and her movement friends and comrades — WRL’s David McReynolds, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, and artist Vera Williams, among others — talk, too, about her activism, about counseling draft resisters during the Vietnam War, about flying to North Vietnam to secure the release of some U.S. prisoners of war, about her arrest for carrying antiwar signs on the White House lawn in 1979, about the Unity Statement she drafted for the 1980 Women’s Pentagon Action, and about her arrest for climbing a fence at the Seneca, N.Y., Army Depot in 1983.

Her daughter Nora describes her excitement when Grace served six days in the Women’s House of Detention, the infamous jail in Greenwich Village, in one stroke making her family “like the other families on Sixth Avenue.“ Grace and others talk about the impact of the women’s movement on her life and work, with Grace calling it “the most important movement in the world,” and Walker and Gornick conducting an argument–by–proxy about whether Grace was or wasn’t a feminist. (Walker takes the affirmative, and Gornick the negative, but the evidence is on Walker’s side.) Grace and her second husband, architect–poet Robert Nichols, talk about their romance and their 35–year marriage.

Interspersed among the conversations, archival photographs, and interview material are clips of Grace reading excerpts from her poems – love poems, antiwar poems, an “anti–love poem” that is actually a love poem – and from her stories. Also included is her lyrical and moving memoir fragment, “Traveling,” an account of a trip through the South on a segregated bus in 1943. In it she talks about “meeting” her future Black grandchild (her daughter Nora’s son) 50 years before his birth. After Grace offers to vacate her seat for a Black woman who can’t sit in the seat, Grace offers to hold the woman’s sleeping child.

The other film, entitled simply Grace, uses similar material — sometimes even the same material — but to less effect. It’s labeled on its case “a documentary” but in the film itself, “a tribute,” and seems unfocused. Some 20 minutes shorter than Collected Shorts, it includes interviews with fewer people and focuses more on Grace’s careers and less on her biography, omitting, for instance, any mention of her first marriage. It identifies her daughter only as “Nora, daughter” but fails to give her last name. Still, it has long segments of Grace herself, and if Lilly Rivlin had not made Collected Shorts, it would have been better than no film at all about Grace.

Unfortunately, most of the faces in both documentaries are white. It’s true that the peace movement in which Grace worked for so much of her life was overwhelmingly white, but it wasn’t so exclusively, nor was the women’s movement. The makers of both films might have gone to the trouble of searching out more diverse faces to provide a wider perspective on their subject and her impact. The absence of people of color is much more conspicuous in Grace, which doesn’t even acknowledge Grace’s interracial family, including only a single snapshot of her with Nora’s son, but failing to identify him as her grandchild.

Both films include readings by Grace of the poem “Responsibility.” Collected Shorts wisely opens with the beginning of the poem but saves its powerful last line for the end of the film: “It is the responsibility of the poet … to keep an eye on/this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be/listened to this time.”

She was listened to. Her words will be listened to for many years to come in the minds of lovers of poetry and admirers of heroism. Now, thanks to Collected Shorts and — if to a lesser extent — Grace, we can keep listening to Grace’s words in her own voice.

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Grace Paley: Collected Shorts
Variety   (Docu)
Review by Robert Koehler

(Grace Paley: Collected Shorts) sensitively grasps the various aspects of the late author–activist, from her highly public resistance to U.S. war–making policy to her distinctly private brand of fiction and poetry. A fine primer for Paley neophytes and a trip down memory lane for her fans.     Click for more

Lilly Rivlin’s film is at its best allowing the frank–talking author and her many friends and colleagues (including the consistently perceptive Alice Walker) to reflect upon a remarkable life. Paley’s gift for a modern, female storytelling voice set her apart from her many famous male colleagues; doc is abetted by several clips of Paley reading her own work in a natural, unaffected tone. Perhaps more exciting was her antiwar work in the ’60s and feminist activism in the ’70s, leading to a memorable confrontation with a crusty, sexist Norman Mailer during a PEN conference.

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Intimate Struggles, Global Politics
Review by Elizabeth Rosner, Tikkun Magazine

Viewers of Lilly Rivlin’s inspiring film Grace Paley: Collected Shorts are in for much more than a portrait of the artist. Whether you are being introduced for the first time or being given the chance to become reacquainted with a much–beloved writer, this richly quilted narrative offers multiple views of a woman extraordinary and exemplary in her authenticity. Grace Paley is vastly more than a sum of her parts: poet, mother, teacher, and activist.

Rivlin’s documentary effectively breaks down Paley’s life and work into segments, with quotations from the author as well as from her many friends (including luminaries like Alice Walker), and her husband, daughter, and granddaughter. Yet the net effect is to see how the different areas of Paley’s life joined in a vivid and unified whole. For her, clearly, there was no contradiction between feminism and marriage, between a life devoted to protest and one devoted to family. Even as Paley worked introspectively to write about her most intimate struggles, she also showed dedicated support of women’s rights on a global scale. In the film, images of her participation in numerous demonstrations are seamlessly interwoven with clips of her reading aloud from her beautifully crafted and unforgettable stories.    Click for more

Grace Paley’s fearless conviction invites me as a writer to remember the power of words to make a difference in the world. For her, storytelling was truly a worthwhile endeavor; art and activism could be, without any doubt, mutually inclusive. She explains that through writing purely in the voice of her “Aunt Rose”, she found her own voice; eventually the stories of women and their difficult lives “pressured” her to give them “the open destiny” of life on the page. “That's what I was doing during the women’s movement,” she says at one point in the film, “writing stories about women.” The comment is offered as a kind of belated revelation, in recognition of this significant contribution to what she called “the most important movement in the world.”

Standing tall at five feet one inch, Paley expressed determination and purpose through her bearing as well as her speech. Called a “Jewish prophet” by one of her fellow members of PEN, she insisted on incorporating the death–sound of “Chernobyl” into her poetry. Political from the start — she joined a socialist organization at the age of nine — it was no surprise that, years later, she traveled to Vietnam in 1969 as a representative of the anti–war movement, or that she spent a week at the Women’s House of Detention. Paley dared to be political in this way not only because “everything was a story,” but also because, as she once admonished a young woman in the process of getting arrested (and who would eventually become a rabbi), “You just can’t get out of your responsibilities.”

When asked for the core of her political wisdom, Paley replied, “You sit down and you stay down.” This simple phrase seems to embody both Paley the writer and Paley the irrepressible political activist. Lucky for us, she also did much more than use her body as a weapon in the struggle for justice. She also used her pen and her voice “to keep an eye on this world and cry out, like Cassandra, but be listened to this time.” As a novelist, essayist, and poet with a fervent belief in writing as a political and humanistic endeavor, I am taking her words to heart.

Novelist, poet, and essayist Elizabeth Rosner is the author of Blue Nude and The Speed of Light. Her work has appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Elle, the Forward, and Hadassah Magazine.

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Jewish Film Fest’s ‘Open Destiny’
Review by George Robinson, The New York Jewish Week

In one of her short stories, Grace Paley writes, “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.” Such a splendid statement, the quotation turns up twice in Lilly Rivlin’s splendid new documentary on Paley’s life and work, “Grace Paley: Collected Shorts,” which plays in this year‘s New York Jewish Film Festival. The sentiment behind the sentence is so open–handed and wholehearted that it could be applied to the best films in the festival, including Rivlin’s own offering.

The Paley film is merely one of several more entries in this year’s festival that center on the lives and trials of Jewish artists, as noted here last week. In a few cases, it is the filmmakers themselves who are an integral part of the story, one of the luxuries available to documentarians in the form’s evolution towards more first–person storytelling. In the case of Rivlin’s film and the excellent short that accompanies it, “Vera Klement – Blunt Edge” by Wonjung Bae, it is the subject herself.    Click for more

The pairing of Bae’s 11–minute profile of Klement, a Chicago–based painter of considerable power, with Rivlin’s feature–length portrait of Paley, is an inspired one. Each of the films is a splendid miniature graced by a woman artist of great warmth, wit and wisdom.

Both Klement and Paley wear their genius and their Jewishness lightly but firmly. Both filmmakers have their subject firmly in view, but manipulate the conventions of the talking–heads documentary skillfully to paint a comprehensive portrait of the milieu that produced their subjects and engaged their creative energies. Both films are economical and precise, with pacing that deftly balances leisure against precision. The highest praise I can bestow on both “Grace Paley: Collected Shorts” and “Vera Klement – Blunt Edge” is to say that I wish each were an hour or two longer. That is how delicious it is to spend time in the company of their protagonists, thanks to the skill of the filmmakers.

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Still Amazing: Grace Paley on Film
Review by Hannah Brown, The Jerusalem Post

“With Grace Paley, what you saw was what you got,” says Lilly Rivlin, the director of the documentary film, Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, which will be shown on Wednesday, December 8 at 7 p.m. at the 12th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Rivlin will be present at the screening and will be joined for a discussion following the film by Professor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi. There will also be screenings of the movie at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on December 9 and at the Haifa Cinematheque on December 12.

Rivlin, a New York–based director was privileged to know Paley, the renowned short story writer, poet and political activist, personally. She wanted to make a film about the writer because she ”combined the best of all possible worlds — literature, politics, and love of humanity.” Although she had long mulled making a film about this writer and friend, in 2006, when Paley became ill, “I rushed to make the film. I heard she was really bad, and thank God I got to her in time.” Rivlin was able to do two long interviews with Paley, including one in which she had to brave a snowstorm to make it to Paley’s home in Vermont. Although Paley grew up in New York City and never lost her Bronx accent, late in life she moved to Vermont with her second husband, Robert Nichols. Paley died in August 2007.    Click for more

Rivlin concedes it was far from simple to make a film about such a beloved, iconoclastic poet and short–story writer, whose books include The Little Disturbances of Man, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, and Later the Same Day, as well as several collections of poetry and writings about politics.

“It was a challenge to say the least. I wanted to take all of her in: The master writer, the political activist and Grace the mensch, who reaches out to her friends, family and kids,” says Rivlin.

Although Paley’s large circle of friends, including the writers Alice Walker and Alan Gurganus, were not only willing but eager to talk about Paley, there are also interviews with her daughter and her husband. Rivlin was also happy to receive what she calls a “treasure trove” of photographs from Paley’s cousin, who supplied baby pictures and other rare photos.

But while deciding how to piece it all together, Rivlin came up with the idea of presenting it a series of short films, all on different ideas or themes that were important to Paley’s life.

“That idea was a lucky stroke,” says Rivlin. “The film parallels her writing,” which is known for its directness, humor and simplicity. And as much as you may think you know Paley the writer, there are surprises here, including rare footage of her reading some of her best stories and poems during the last years of her life. The fact that she studied with W.H. Auden at the New School for Social Research is also not widely known.

A friend recalls what that he told her: “Why are you trying to write like me? You’re a woman, you’re from the Bronx.”” Paley credited Auden with helping her find her own voice. Although her writing may read as if it were effortless, Paley speaks of her difficulty completing pieces, and recalls her great pride when, as a working mother in her thirties, she finished her first short story.

Grace Paley: Collected Shorts has been screened widely at festivals in the US and won the audience awards at the Woodstock Film Festival and the Starz Denver Festival. It will also be shown next month at the New York Jewish Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Jewish Film Festival.

Rivlin has a strong connection to Israel (her cousin is MK and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin) and her last two films, Gimme a Kiss (a look at her parents’ lives) and Can You Hear Me?: Israeli and Palestinian Women Fight for Peace, were shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Still, due to some commitments in New York, Rivlin hesitated before committing to attend the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.

“But then I thought: What would Grace say?” says Rivlin. And she decided that Paley would have told her, “ ‘Go, show the film. Try to engage with the young people in the audience.’ Young people and children were so important to her. So I knew I had to go get on the plane.”

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Woodstock Film Festival
Audience Awards Announced For Feature Documentary:
Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, directed by Lilly Rivlin

In the opening moments of Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, Paley rhetorically asks an audience, “What is the responsibility of a poet?” We soon learn that Gracy Paley answered that question emphatically throughout her entire life. Lilly Rivlin’s inspiring film brings to life the momentous times in which this author and activist lived and worked as she reads from her short stories, poems and essays. Paley was a firebrand on the front line of protest. She opposed war and nuclear proliferation, and fought for the rights of women, which often landed her in jail. As a teacher she influences generations of writers.     Click for more

Grace Paley is a New York icon whose life attests to the possibility that one person can combine public responsibility with individual creativity. Paley not only broke the mold, she created a new approach to her life’s work that combined equal parts writer, activist, woman and mother.

In Grace Paley: Collected Shorts we learn the story of this child of Russian–Jewish immigrants, raised in New York City in the 1930s. We hear from her daughter, granddaughter and a wide range of fellow writers and activists. We also hear many of Grace Paley’s own words, the greatest joy of Rivlin’s revealing film. (David Becker)

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From the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
website & catalogue.

Lilly Rivlin’s (Gimme a Kiss, SFJFF 2002) intimate documentary is a rich, inspiring portrait of Jewish writer and activist Grace Paley, who passed away in 2007. Paley’s acclaimed first short story collection, The Little Disturbances of Man, established her reputation with its brilliantly sad and funny chronicles of Jewish American urban females much like herself.    Click for more

Paley’s New York tales, filled with an emotional and sexual frankness especially bold at the tail end of the frightened 1950s, soon became classics of the short fiction form. Not content to rest on her laurels, however, Paley combined her evolving literary career with passionate pursuit of her political concerns through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. “Art is too long and life is too short,” wrote the outspoken Paley, “There’s a lot more to do in life than writing.” Indeed, she spent the rest of her life on the front lines of the anti-war and women’s movements, where she endured being arrested time and again. Rivlin’s film confidently juggles all aspects of Paley’s extraordinary story, told in candid recollections and passionate readings by Paley herself, along with fond remembrances by literary critics, family and writer-friends Allan Gurganas and Alice Walker. Throughout, Grace Paley: Collected Shorts casts an important and penetrating light on a brilliant and highly principled woman who constantly reinvented both her life and art.   — Thomas Logoreci

Photo: Lilly Rivlin at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

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TrustMovies Review by James Van Maanen

Here's a new documentary that ought to chalk up an immediate fan base: readers around the world passionate about the work of the late writer/mother/activist Grace Paley.     Click for more

There are a lot of Paley fans out there — TrustMovies is one of them — which ought to ensure a release of this film by Lilly Rivlin (shown below). Even better, so good is this new work — so immediate, enthralling, moving and funny — that it will probably create a bunch of new Paley fans, as well. (My companion, who knew little to nothing about this writer, happened to pass through the living room while I was viewing the DVD screener. He stood in back of the sofa for a time, growing interested and occasionally commenting. Then, clearly enthralled, he sat down next to me and continued watching.) Rivlin’s film, titled GRACE PALEY: COLLECTED SHORTS uses no narrator; instead it is often Grace’s voice that guides us through her life. This makes the documentary extremely intimate and warm. Listening to this funny, direct, smart and practical woman is such a pleasure that even the usual talking heads that abound in films such as this (that's writer Alan Gurganus, below), well–spoken as they are, play second fiddle to Grace herself.

We learn about her early life, her parents, and the men who mattered most (what she has to say about attraction, love and marriage is simply wonderful — as is her anti–love poem that we also hear her read). We meet, glancingly, her children and grandchildren, her friends, students and other writers. I would called Paley a proto–feminist, but that is not the opinion of writer Vivian Gornick (shown below), also interviewed here. To that opinion, “She may have too narrow an idea of feminism,” notes another interviewee, with whom I’d agree.

There are gobs of good information on display — about everything from The Great Depression to the old Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village (Paley tells one whopping good story about this place!), her family in Poland and Russia, and of course the ever’present demonstrations. This lady was often out there on the front lines and occasionally even arrested (see below).

If the movie is a paean to Paley well — goddamn — the woman deserves it. Just hearing of her mother's history when down south (refusing to move from the back of the bus into the white section) is inspiring, as is the writer's standing up to Norman Mailer during one even–more–male–centric–than–usual meeting of the Pen crowd.

These two SFJFF screenings comprise the documentary’s first festival outing, but surely we'll be seeing it again. Every moment in the film is alive and rich — just like Grace. Could the movie be better? Of course. What film couldn’t? Does this matter? As the words on Paley’s chapeau (shown at top) so clearly state: Hell no.

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Washington Post Review by Ann Hornaday

If anyone explored identity and community with vigor and joy, it was the short story author Grace Paley, who died in 2007. In the documentary "Grace Paley: Collected Shorts" (Sunday), Lilly Rivlin creates a lively, affectionate tribute to Paley as a writer, mother, leftist, daughter of the Bronx, feminist, teacher, wife, pacifist, troublemaker - who was, incidentally, Jewish.      Click for more

Paley helped forge new possibilities for women when she published the collection "The Little Disturbances of Man" in 1959. With lines like "There's a whole college of feeling between my corset and me," she made her own immigrant Bronx vernacular worthy of literary respect, and later had the guts to call out Norman Mailer when he organized a scandalously sexist PEN conference.

"Grace Paley: Collected Shorts" has already begun to win prizes on the festival circuit. It includes interviews with Alice Walker, Allan Gurganus and, most rewarding, the indomitable Paley herself, who emerges here not just as a consummate storyteller, but an eminently worthy subject herself.

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Art Times: Literary Journal and Resource for the Fine and Performing Arts – Culturally Speaking
Review by Cornelia Seckel

I met Lilly Rivlin at the Woodstock Film Festival’s awards celebration in Woodstock, NY this past Fall and as we chatted I said that one of the films I regretted not seeing was her film Grace Paley: Collected Shorts and she offered to have it sent to me and I’m glad she did. The screening at the WFF was the East Coast Premiere for the film and won the audience award for Best Feature Documentary.     Click for more

The film is an excellent and beautifully skilled acknowledgement of Grace Paley (1922-2007) a woman who has been called the quintessential New Yorker – a mother, activist, poet, teacher, short fiction writer, friend and wife. Lilly Rivlin has told this story with old photographs of Grace Paley’s early years, interviews with friends, students, family and most of all a lot of footage of Grace reading her poems, telling stories from her life, talking with her friends and family, as well as news clippings and footage from demonstrations. This is an important testament to Grace Paley and to the times of the women’s movement and anti–war movement.

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Hadassah Magazine, February/March 2011
Grace Paley: Collected Shorts

by Renata Polt

Short–story writer, poet, feminist, antiwar activist, wife, mother–the Bronx–born daughter of immigrants fit it all into her long life.     Click for more

Lilly Rivlin’s film vividly re–creates the remarkable Paley’s life in the mid– and late–20th century, using footage from her readings and interviews with writers such as Alice Walker, all punctuated by lively watercolor illustrations. Women Make Movies.

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Feminists in Focus:
Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival
‘Grace Paley: Collected Shorts’ and ‘As Lilith’

Review by Amy Stone