Rebecca Cammisa

Rebecca Cammisa

Fellow: Awarded 2010

Field of Study: Film

Competition: US & Canada

Celebrated documentary filmmaker Rebecca Cammisa came to prominence with her first film, Sister Helen (1998), which documented eighteen months in the life of this woman and her work at The John Thomas Travis Center, a halfway house for drug- and alcohol-addicted men. Sister Helen herself was once an alcoholic whose husband died of alcoholism, and one of her teenage sons was stabbed to death and the other died of a heroin overdose. Released in 2002, Sister Helen aired on Cinemax and HBO and other networks worldwide, was featured at over two dozen prestigious film festivals, and earned for Ms. Cammisa the Documentary Directing Award at Sundance; the Gold Hugo Award for best documentary film at the Chicago International Film Festival; the Jury Prize for best documentary film at the Newport Film Festival; the Best Documentary Film Award at the Nashville Film Festival; the Freddie Award for outstanding performing by the International Health & Medical Media Awards; and a Grand Marnier Foundation film grant. In addition in 2006 the Museum of Modern Art Film Library acquired Sister Helen for its permanent collection.

Ms. Cammisa has described Sister Helen’s world as one “that society either wants to forget about, or not be bothered with at all.” That description could be applied equally to her next two documentaries: The Tricky Part (2004), which films actor Martin Moran as he performs his one-man play, recounting his abuse by a camp counselor and his confronting of that man thirty years later; and Which Way Home (2009), which follows a group of unaccompanied Mexican child migrants as they take a dangerous journey through Mexico in the hope of reaching the United States. Produced by Mr. Mudd (the production company of John Malkovich, Lianne Halfon, and Russell Smith) and funded in part by a Fulbright Fellowship in Filmmaking, a NYU/Blaufarb Documentary Film Award, and an NYFA Fellowship, Which Way Home had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and its European premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, both in 2009. The Traverse City Film Festival awarded Which Way Home its Special Jury Prize for Human Rights. When it aired in August of that year on HBO’s Documentary Summer series, it reached over 3.5 million viewers. In 2010 Which Way Home won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Programming and received four nominations in the News & Documentary category.

As her reputation as an outstanding filmmaker and cinematographer grew, Rebecca Cammisa has received funding from HBO, the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Wellspring Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts. She produced and directed her first fiction film, Sunset Tuxedo, as an invitee to the American Film Academy’s Directing Workshop for Women, supported in part by a grant from the Jane Morrison Memorial Film Fund.

During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she will be working on her next documentary, The Death of a Newspaper, which will chronicle the last eight months of a paper that is forced to close and the impact of that closing on its editors, reporters, and other employees as well as on the community the paper serves.