95 years ago, she drove dogsleds, pioneered the nude scene and insisted in the human treatment of her animals’ co-stars. She lost everything but heart. And then she vanished . . .
In 1922, silent film writer, director, producer and star Nell Shipman left Hollywood stardom behind to move to God’s country in Priest Lake, Idaho with her 10-year-old son, her lover-producer and her private zoo of 70 animals that included bobcats, bears, elk, eagles, deer and sled dogs. By 1924, she was buried deep in debt, her partner on the verge of losing his leg to frostbite and her beloved animals in danger of starvation.
Nell Shipman was born in Victoria, BC in 1892. At the age of 13 she joined Vaudeville shows and developed an endearing love for animals. By 1915, she became one of the most influential women in Hollywood, starring and writing in one of the most successful silent Canadian films of all time — God’s Country and the Women — performing one of the first nude scenes on screen. Shipman was a feminist at a time when there wasn’t a word for it, an environmentalist when the word was not yet invented, and a devoted animals’ right activist when few understood what that meant.
So what happened to Nell Shipman? Was she forgotten? Did she simply just vanish?
Following her adventurous and incredible life, her brilliant film journey challenged assumptions of cinema’s history and reminds us of pioneering women all over the world who paved the way and of those, who like Shipman, challenged the studios’ status quo and later paid for it. Pioneering women who, in front of and behind the camera, shaped three-dimensional, mature and interesting heroines.
In the documentary Girl from God’s Country, US filmmaker Karen Day tells Shipman’s story parallel to the stories of other female silent movie entrepreneurs, highlighting their immense but largely hidden legacy.
The film’s Canadian Premiere happens on March 8th, International Women’s Day as the first screening of the 11th Annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (#VIWIFF2016).
The screening starts at 2 PM at the Vancity Theatre and is followed by a panel discussion about current initiatives to address gender imbalance in media production. The filmmaker, Karen Day, will be in attendance.
For more information and registration, click here.
By Ana Carrizales
WIFTV and Cineworks member Ana Carrizales is a Vancouver-based actress, filmmaker & media creator. She is passionate about female-driven storytelling and is currently developing a global platform for women to share their stories.
Fun Fact: Nell Shipman’s legacy lives on in Daniel Janke’s Grubstake Remix, a re-imagination of Shipman’s 1923 The Grubstake.