Women in Film on Public Broadcasting: Harriet Reisen

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) welcomes guest author Veronica Mendez, a duel intern with AAPB and Women in Film and Video New England. Stay tuned for a short series of essays that feature public broadcasting materials covering topics related to women in the film industry. Veronica is currently pursuing a bachelor’s in Media and Film from Suffolk University with an emphasis on video editing. 

This is the fourth installment of this series. Click here to read more.


Harriet Reisen

The New England chapter of Women in Film and Video (WIF) has an extensive network that represents a collective experience of women in the film industry and spans across generations that achieved notable accomplishments. This series will focus on highlighting women in film and video through the preserved materials in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB).

Women in Film is a national network made up of local chapters and one of the co-founders of the New England chapter is Harriet Reisen. I found a television program from WGBH that features Reisen giving a talk the Harvard Bookstore in Boston, MA. Among many accomplishments, Reisen is an author, screenwriter, and producer who is active in media through radio, television, and print. Harriet Reisen’s works have been broadcasted through PBS and HBO for whom she has written documentary scripts. Her documentary being featured in this forum is on one of her favorite authors Louisa May Alcott.

Alcott became one of Reisen’s inspirations as a writer and creative. In this program from the AAPB Archives she gives an in depth look on the famous author and retells Alcott’s story from the age of 30. In her time period Louisa May Alcott was a different type of woman especially at 30 years old. Choosing to not marry and have a career instead was unusual for women in the 1860s. Reisen does not let the ups and downs of Alcott’s story be forgotten and she gives more life and depth to the image that is usually remembered of the famous author. Louisa May Alcott is usually imagined as her character Jo March in Little Women. Yet, Harriet Reisen ensures that Louisa May Alcott is remembered as the woman she became past that character. Harriet Reisen’s work is important to understand one of the United States most well know writers. 

Last year for my English, Young Adult Literature class one of the first books we read was Little Women. Little Women is an American classic and very ahead of its time. We learned that Louisa May Alcott’s book was actually about her own young life. The Little Women’s stories end with the three surviving sisters married. My Professor also gave us excerpts from Alcott’s paragraphs so we could connect pieces of her life to the book. Unsurprisingly, Louisa May Alcott is Jo March in the books. My ideas of who the famous author was coincided with the idea of Jo March. Harriet Reisen’s work gives this author the biography she deserves.

Yet, listening to Harriet Reisen’s retelling of Alcott’s life it makes the author more complex. Harriet Reisen not only made a documentary about Alcott but she also wrote a book and created an audiobook. She uncovered so many primary documents that helped Reisen chronicle Alcott’s life. She found correspondence between Alcott and her friends, family, publishers, and readers. She also uncovered recollections from ALcott’s loved ones, and contemporaries. Yet, the most priceless resource were Alcott’s own journals and works. These gave her enough information to produce the documentary and books.

It was a great joy to see Reisen present about her documentary film and book, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2009). Reisen describes how her fascination with the Massachusetts author inspired the narrative, and how she was an avid reader of all Alcott’s works. As Reisen put it, “the film script is all from primary sources so none of my words are in it. There’s no narrator though all the people speak the words that those people actually spoke.” The famous Massachusetts author has inspired may young readers for years. Along with showing clips of her documentary, Reisen’s forum is interesting, entertaining, and informative.

I invite you to enjoy this inspiring writer: https://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-dv1cj87r0x

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