This is the sad type of story that obviously no one would like to be reporting. After losing their home during Hurricane Katrina, filmmaker/animator Helen Hill and her husband, Dr. Paul Gailiunas, returned to New Orleans last August. Yesterday morning, Helen Hill was shot and killed in her home and her husband was also shot, in an apparently random act of violence. An AP story says Hill was the fifth person violently killed in New Orleans in a span of 14 hours. All the sad details about her death can be found in the South Carolina paper THE STATE.
Hill, 36, earned her Master of Fine Arts in experimental animation from CalArts in 1995. Her animated shorts screened at numerous festivals, and in 2004 she received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Program for Media Artists for THE FLORESTINE COLLECTION, a film “reflecting on handcrafted work and race in New Orleans through the story of a collection of hand-sewn dresses and the woman who made them.” In addition to her filmmaking, Hill taught filmmaking and animation to youth and adults, and served as visiting artist at the California State Summer School for the Arts and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
(Thanks, Heather Harkins)
UPDATE: Ottawa International Animation Festival director Chris Robinson writes a beautiful tribute to Helen Hill.
Brew reader John Carter offers a memory of Helen:
I was saddened to hear about Helen’s passing. I knew Helen and her family, I went to school with Helen at Dreher High School in Columbia, SC and her mother Becky Lewis was my fourth and fifth grade teacher. Mrs. Lewis was perhaps one of my favorite teachers that I ever had.
Helen loved film and animation and I remember seeing a film that their family made at their home in our fifth grade class. It was a stop motion and live action piece. Very creative. In fact if there are ever two words that could sum up Helen’s character it would be creative and loving. She was one of the most genuine people I have ever met, kind and very sincere. I had lost touch with the family over the years and did not know she was in New Orleans.
I wanted to share with you a story about her mother, and in a way, Helen. You see, we watched Helen’s homemade film in class as a preparation for an assignment from her mother. We were going to make an animated film as a class. We listened to different selections of music and we drew what came in our minds while listening. While listening to Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag I drew an Elephant coming upon a rainbow and then sucking in that rainbow through his nose. (Hey, I was in fifth grade – cut me a break.) Mrs. Lewis loved it and so my section of the film was Maple Leaf Rag. I cut out an elephant and rainbow a la South Park and in fifth grade made my very own animated segment. Helen even came to class a couple of times with her mom to help (she was a grade ahead of me). Our class made a short film of animated segments as individuals or teams and then put everything together. It remains one of my fondest memories of my childhood and helped to make me even more passionate about something I already loved: animation. So even at a very young age, Helen was making films and sharing her passion and helping others.