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Laurie Kahn lives in a house surrounded by towering trees and flourishing green fern. From this idyllic spot, out of what used to be a garage, she runs her film company Blueberry Hill Productions.
Kahn’s films at Blueberry Hill Productions tell the stories of ordinary women and the communities they build. One of her most recent projects, “Love Between the Covers,” looks at the powerful yet disrespected community of women who read and write romance novels.
Kahn is bringing to the screen women’s untold stories and giving them a voice. She said she wants people to leave her films with questions and a new perspective.
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Bitten by the film bug
Kahn did not intend to be a filmmaker. Growing up she had wanted to be a writer, but a good friend at Oxford introduced Kahn to the film world and got her hooked.
“We must have seen five or six films a week,” she said, “and I just got the film bug from him.”
Kahn was pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy, but her passion for film took hold. She helped the same friend create an 8 mm adaptation of French author Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Mouche,” and got a job writing film reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and Time Out.
The film bug had bitten, but it would take Kahn several years yet to leave behind philosophy.
Kicking off a career in film
After Oxford, Kahn moved to Boston where she pursued a Ph.D in philosophy, but spent much of her free time volunteering for other people’s films, and watching independent movies at art houses.
Kahn decision to pursue a career in film came after she watched a documentary series about the “Vietnam War.” The documentary dove into what happened and why events unfolded the way they did. It featured academic scholars and those involved on every side of the conflict.
The series was good, solid history, Kahn said, and she thought it would be fun to work on a similar project.
“I love digging around archives. I love figuring out history and piecing it together,” she said.
Some of the same people who had worked on the Vietnam project were looking for a senior researcher for their new series about Central America. Kahn applied.
She did not get the job, but it did become apparent to her that she did not want to become a professional philosopher.
“I was a good student and I think I was a good teacher, but I did not have anything wildly original to say in philosophy,” she said.
Taking the jump, she volunteered as an unpaid intern for the Central America series. When an associate producer later left the project to attend law school, the show runners hired Kahn to take his place.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I was lucky.”
From there, Kahn’s career kicked off. She worked on another documentary series about the Civil Rights Movement called “Eyes on the Prize,” and later became a producer for “This American Experience” at WGBH.
Telling stories of ordinary women
Kahn said she was first attracted to stories about ordinary women because, at the time, no one was translating their stories to the screen.
There was a lot of good scholarship about women’s history, Kahn said, but the films being produced, even by This American Experience, were about presidents, war, and disasters.
“I thought, there is a place I can really contribute, and they are stories I care about,” she said.
Her first film materialized after reading Laurel Ulrich’s Pulitzer prize book, “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.”
The book recounts Ballard’s life in a small-town in Maine using her daily diary entries. Kahn devoured the book and said she could imagine how she would make it into a film.
She ran with the idea and, in 1991, created Blueberry Hills Production in Watertown. After years of work, in 1998, “This American Experience” opened their 10th season with Kahn’s “A Midwife's Tale.” The film went on to win an Emmy for outstanding non-fiction.
Since then, Kahn has produced a variety of films at Blueberry Hills Production, most of which center around the same theme as “A Midwife’s Tale;” giving ordinary and overlooked women a voice.
Kahn produced “Tupperware,” a documentary about inventor Earl Tupper, and Brownie Wise, the woman who built his empire. She created a 10-part series and centered each episode on a lesser known woman in American history; And, her most recent film “Love Between the Covers” spotlights the romance novel community.
All of her films are different, but each one gives women a platform to tell their story.
Kahn said, “I want [people] to look at history a bit differently than they normally do, and at what happens when women are not just the peripheral characters in history.”