A Conversation with Writer Harriet Reisen
Book Studio Interview with Author Harriet Reisen
NPR Interview with Writer/Producer Harriet Reisen
A Statement from Director Nancy Porter
Reviews of the Book
Reviews of the Documentary
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Documentary Program Notes:
The challenge of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women was to make a feature-length film about a modern woman who lived 150 years ago, when photography was in its infancy and film only a dream.
To present a flesh and blood Louisa we–Director /Producer Nancy Porter and Writer/Producer Harriet Reisen–combined elements of documentary and drama to reveal different aspects of the character and her story.
To authentically present Louisa, her family, and the celebrated people (Emerson, Thoreau) she knew, we used dialogue exclusively from writings or firsthand reports of conversation; nothing was invented. Scenes for actors were shot in their original settings (Orchard House, Emerson’s Study, Fruitlands) or historic houses. We also used the approach of the solo performance, with Louisa speaking to camera in an intimate way.
Intercut interviews carry the commentary and narrative links. Alcott scholars, directly engaged with the material, are the storytellers, instead of a narrator reading a script; they are Sarah Elbert, Joel Myerson, Daniel Shealy, and John Matteson, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for biography for Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father. They were joined by Geraldine Brooks, author of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel March, based on Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, and Jan Turnquist, Director of Orchard House Museum. We interviewed Dr. Norbert Hirschhorn, one of the two “medical detectives” who discovered the cause of Louisa’s death through evidence in a portrait, and visited Madeleine Stern and Dr. Leona Rostenberg, the “literary sleuths” who, more than 50 years after her death, found the clue to Louisa Alcott’s secret life as a writer of pulp fiction.
To enter Louisa’s imagination, convey her wild popularity, and represent her prodigious literary output, we turned to animators Lisa Crafts and Vidlit. To represent the Paris Louisa and the charming “Laddie” admired in 1870, we used green screen and period photographs. Illustrative stills sequences were enhanced and stylized using digital effects.
Louisa Alcott was an immensely complex woman. To play Louisa (and the characters she invented in thrillers) we chose “the superlative Elizabeth Marvel” (Ben Brantley, New York Times), a three-time Obie winner. To frame Alcott’s amazing story, legendary actress Jane Alexander played the role of her first biographer, Ednah Cheney.