By Jim Hession, 2013 Fellow
Growing up, I wanted to be many things. Professional basketball player. Journalist. Doctor. Lawyer. Photographer. Scientist. Historian. Writer. Bartender. CIA Agent. I don't specifically remember ever wishing to become an astronaut, fireman, or police officer, but the chances are that I considered those lines of noble work at some point as well.
It perhaps comes as little surprise, therefore, that I had many interests and passions throughout my youth. But above all else, I was an American history buff. And if I were to be completely honest, I'd actually say that I was a bit of an American history nerd. I loved reading about it, I loved studying it, and yes, I absolutely loved watching documentaries about it. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around managing to watch nearly all 18.5 hours of Ken Burns' Baseball series with my father when it originally broadcasted on PBS. I was thirteen at the time and had my sights set on becoming a Hall of Fame relief pitcher.
But it was in my junior year of college that I was first introduced to the documentaries Fast, Cheap and Out of Control and Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. Both works were edited by Karen Schmeer. Both works altered the direction of my life. And both works changed my entire perception of what a documentary could be.
At the time, I remember thinking that, indeed, these were documentaries. But they were also films! I was captivated by their artistry, charmed by their cleverness, and most of all, thoroughly amazed by the fact that a documentary could actually make me feel something on a visceral level. I laughed when the filmmakers wanted me to laugh, my body grew physically tense in the moments of drama, and I felt a legitimate affinity for the films’ characters. Sometimes they made me happy. Sometimes they made me sad. At other times they made me squeamishly uncomfortable.
Either way, I was sold. “Damn,” I remember thinking. “Forget all of those other careers. I want to do that!”
In subsequent years, I have been fortunate enough to grow into the role of a professional editor, and over time, I've come to realize that the work I am most proud of manages to somehow reflect how I am inclined to view and experience the outside world. Consequently, I must believe that when we watch films such as The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara and Sergio, we are gaining a privileged insight into what life must have looked like through the eyes of Karen Schmeer. And upon reading the warm memories of the numerous people who Karen touched throughout her lifetime, I think that I now understand why so many of her films have affected me on a very human and emotional level. For sure, it is evident that Karen edited with the very same passion, care, and sensitivity with which she lived her life.
And so, I am absolutely thrilled to learn that I will be representing the Karen Schmeer Editing Fellowship as this year's fellow. I wish to warmly thank everyone responsible for entrusting me with this very humbling honor. Over the course of the coming year, I look forward to taking full advantage of the wonderful and unique opportunities that the fellowship affords its awardee with the knowledge that there are many other emerging editors who are equally deserving of such recognition. But most of all, I will consider myself to be extremely lucky for being extended the chance to partake in the remembrance of an individual who provided so much inspiration for so many people—myself included.