It begins this way: In the summer of 1966 a group of 65 Peace Corps Volunteers head for Africa and the heat-scorched desert of Niger. They stay for two years working in agriculture, digging wells and starting health clinics for women and their babies. In 2008 five of these RPCVs return to Niger to revisit the country, see our old friends and witness how their work has improved the lives of the people there. When they return to their host country, they also do a documentary film. You can see a short ten minute trailer of this film (now being finished as a full-length feature) at www.niger66.com. It is a wonderful treat.
The film was produced and directed by Judy Irola (Niger 1966-68) who is an award winning cinematographer and a Full Professor at the University of Southern California. She also holds the Conrad Hall Chair in Cinematography (endowed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and is the Head of Cinematography where she designs the curriculum and supervises 26 cinematographers on the faculty. Besides that, she is presently is the Chair of the Full Faculty at SCA.
The co-producer and cinematographer on the film is Robert Potter (Niger 1966-68) where as a PCV he worked in audio-visual and textbook production for an adult literacy effort. He returned to the U.S. and completed his undergraduate degree in Design at the University of Washington (Seattle) and then have had a long career producing independent film documentaries on ecological and cultural awareness.
Recently Judy was honored by the Womens International Film & Television Showcase Foundation with an “international visionary award.” The foundation is an organization devoted to recognizing and promoting innovative women filmmakers. “For years, when I was younger,” said Judy when she received her award, “I didn’t want to be ghettoized as a woman. I wanted to be recognized as a cinematographer and for my work. But now that I’m older, and women have truly come so far, we can be recognized for our work, and it’s OK.”
Well, her film on Niger is certainly “OK” and it comes in time for the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps. What a gift!
After serving two years in the Peace Corps in Niger, Africa (1966-68) Irola returned to San Francisco where she went to work for KQED-TV in their documentary film unit. She has worked as a cinematographer for over 30 years and her films have won numerous awards. Her first feature Northern Lightswon the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979. In 1993 An Ambush of Ghostsgarnered her the Cinematography Award, Dramatic Competition, at the Sundance Film Festival. She has photographed 17 independent feature films (including Working Girls by Lizzie Borden and The Dead End Kidsby JoAnne Akalaitis) and more than 40 documentaries throughout the world.
In 1995 Irola was the third woman to be invited to become a member of the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). In 1997 she was the recipient of Kodak’s Vision Award. She is a Full Professor and holds the Conrad Hall Chair in Cinematography (endowed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She is also the Head of Cinematography where she designs the curriculum and supervises 26 cinematographers on the faculty. Presently she is the Chair of the Full Faculty at SCA as well.
Potter served two years (1966-68) in the Peace Corps in Niger, Africa, where he worked in audio-visual and textbook production for an adult literacy effort. He returned to complete his undergraduate degree in Design at the University of Washington (Seattle). Upon graduation he joined the VISTA program and was sent to New York City, to work in a counseling program with the NYC Department of Corrections (1969-70). In Philadelphia, he worked for four years (1971-75) as a psychiatric social worker for that City.
In 1977, Potter received a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and took a position in regional planning and community outreach with the Health Systems Agency. In 1983, he joined the U.S. National Park Service to supervise media production and manage conservation projects; in all, he worked there for 23 years (1983-2005). During that time he created Media-Media Video Productions (1988-96) where he generated more than two-dozen short and feature length documentaries about leadership issues within the environmental movement, conservation, and cultural heritage. In 2005, Potter retired from the Park Service to continue producing independent film documentaries on ecological and cultural awareness.