For more than 30 years, Ann Fessler’s work has focused on the stories of women and the impact that myths, stereotypes, and mass media images have on their lives and intimate relationships.
Fessler turned to the subject of adoption in 1989 after being approached by a woman who thought Ann might be the daughter she had surrendered for adoption forty years earlier. Though the woman was not her mother, Fessler—an adoptee—was profoundly moved by the experience. The conversation that ensued changed the focus of her work.
Since that time she has produced three films, audio and video installations, and a non-fiction book on adoption. Between 2002-05, Fessler conducted over 100 interviews with women who lost children to adoption during the 28 years that followed WWII, when a perfect storm of circumstances led to an unprecedented number of surrenders.
Her short films on adoption have won top honors at festivals and have been screened internationally. Her book, The Girls Who Went Away (Penguin Press, 2006) was chosen as one of the top 5 non-fiction books of 2006 by the National Book Critics Circle, and was awarded the Ballard Book Prize, given annually to a female author who advances the dialogue about women’s rights. In 2011, her book was chosen by readers of Ms. magazine as one of the top 100 feminist books of all time.
FILMOGRAPHY – Previous Films on AdoptionAlong the Pale Blue River, 2001, experimental/documentary short, RT 9 minutes Ann Fessler, producer, director, editor, archival film researcher
Told through a collage of recent video and archival footage of the farms and rivers of the rural Midwest, Pale Blue is an autobiographical tale about a young pregnant girl who flees her rural community for a town where she can be invisible, and the daughter who returns forty years later, (filmmaker Ann Fessler) propelled by a series of coincidences and a dream, to look for a yearbook picture of the woman who gave birth to her. There, Fessler discovers the source of the river from her childhood town and realizes it has always flowed from her mother to her.Magnolia Independent Film Festival, Starkville, Mississippi, 2002 Moondance International Film Festival, Boulder, 2002, Spirit of Moondance Award/Short Film Big Muddy Film Festival, Southern Illinois University, 2002, Gold Prize – Experimental New England Film & Video Festival, Boston, 2002, Judges’ Choice – Independent Athens International Film and Video Festival, 2002, First Place – Experimental Arizona International Film Festival, 2002 Taos Talking Pictures Festival, Taos, New Mexico, 2002 Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2002 Women in the Director’s Chair International Film Festival, Chicago, 2003 Marblehead Film Festival, Massachusetts, 2005 Cliff & Hazel, 1993/1999, documentary, RT 25 minutes Ann Fessler, producer, director, camera, editor; on-line editor, Amanda Ault
Cliff & Hazel is an adopted daughter’s humorous and poignant portrait of her adoptive parents. Ann documents a trip home to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday. It is her first visit since the death of her father and words come easier in his absence. Hazel is outspoken about her anti-women’s liberation views and her belief that a woman’s place is in the home. She also believes that men are smarter than women and she tells her feminist daughter that the proof can be found in the television program Jeopardy, where there are always more men than women.
As the video progresses the contradictions and complexities of Hazel’s life begin to unfold. Hazel’s tearful response to a made-for-TV movie about a daughter’s search for her birth mother prompts a conversation afterwards in which Hazel reveals that she was also adopted.
Through the story of Cliff and Hazel, Ann tells her own story—the story of an adopted daughter who on the surface seems different in every way from her parents, but through the making of this documentary comes to better understand her parents as individuals, their interdependence as a couple, and herself as their daughter. Cliff & Hazel is about generational difference, unspoken words between mothers and daughters, and the complex nature of family relationships and identity, especially in families brought together by adoption.Women In The Director’s Chair International Film Festival, Chicago, Festival Premier, 2000 New England Film/Video Festival, Boston, 2000, Honorable Mention Award Athens International Film/Video Festival, Ohio University, 2000, Documentary Award Big Muddy Film Festival, Southern Illinois University, 2001, Documentary Award Providence Women’s Film Festival, Rhode Island, 2001 Magnolia Independent Film Festival, Starkville, Mississippi, 2003, Best Short Documentary Tupelo Film Festival, Mississippi, 2004
Cliff & Hazel was made possible, in part, by a Residency at Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta, Canada, and by a post-production Art and Technology Residency at Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio