Karen Schmeer, A.C.E., was one of the leading film editors of her generation. A native of Portland, Oregon, Karen had always been an avid lover of film. After graduating from Boston University, where she studied anthropology, Karen began working with Errol Morris as a researcher.
She began her remarkable career by editing a film that Morris had feared was “completely uneditable," 1997's Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. Her extraordinary success -- weaving four disparate characters' stories into a poetic symphony of human emotion, sheer whimsy, and questions about the meaning of life -- marked the beginning of a·decade-long collaboration with Morris. Their work together includes some of the most exciting documentary films in recent times: the Academy Award-Winning·Fog of War; the controversial Mr. Death; and the groundbreaking IFC series First Person.
In addition to her collaboration with Morris, Karen worked with a range of directors on an astounding variety of subjects. Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry offered an intimate, first-person look at one of the world's greatest and most idiosyncratic architects. Robb Moss' The Same River Twice presented a richly nuanced elegy to memory and the passing of time, exploring a group of friends in their 20’s and the trajectories of their lives 25 years later. Lucia Small's My Father the Genius combined the universal complexities of father-daughter relations along with the singular world-view of visionary architect Glenn Howard Small. Amazingly, each of these films reflected Karen's signature editing style, while holding true to the director's unique vision.
Recently, Karen had made a foray into fiction film with Neil Abramson's American Son, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. Returning to documentary, Karen's work on Greg Barker's Sergio, detailing the extraordinary life of UN Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, received the Best Editing Award at Sundance in 2009. Karen had been editing Bobby Fischer Against the World, Liz Garbus' documentary on reclusive chess master Bobby Fischer, when one evening after work she was tragically struck and killed by a car fleeing a drug store robbery in New York City on January 29, 2010, three weeks before her 40th birthday.
Karen's absence is deeply felt, not only for her filmmaking gifts, but for her extraordinary spirit, which touched countless people. This fellowship is meant to honor both her artistic legacy and her giving spirit. Karen was a singular talent, and a singular friend. She offered so much of herself to others, whether that meant watching rough cut after rough cut for a colleague, or baking a pie to cheer up a friend in need. She cared for and was deeply moved by other people, and ultimately that was what made her work rise to the highest level. No matter how·strange or exotic her documentary subjects might seem, Karen would always find the beating hearts within them, and draw the viewer into that underlying connection. She was the same as a friend. She could tell when a friend needed a phone call or a letter. She was someone who could look into a stranger's eyes, and seeing sadness, offer words of compassion. One evening while living in New York City, Karen saw an old man walking his dog. She noticed he was crying, and gently asked him what was wrong. When the man told Karen that his wife had passed, and that he now had to walk the dog alone, Karen offered to meet the elderly gentleman each night so they could walk the dog together. And they did.
In an industry of name-droppers and ladder-climbers, Karen would do neither. She never talked about her accolades; she never promoted herself. Karen was always humble. She edited films because she loved them. She kept friends and family close because she loved them too. This fellowship is dedicated to honoring her memory, as we aim to give our fellows the same level of care and inspiration that Karen provided for so many.