About The Film

It was 1933. The streets outside photographer Dorothea Lange’s successful portrait studio were teeming with people on breadlines, lives shattered by America’s economic collapse and the Great Depression. Lange’s personal challenge – to become a witness to the world unraveling around her– would change her life, and her photographs would test the conscience of a nation.

White Angel Breadline

White Angel Breadline

Grab A Hunk of Lightning, a 110-minute film narrated and directed by Dorothea Lange’s granddaughter, award-winning filmmaker Dyanna Taylor, tells the compelling story of the passion, vision, and drive that made Lange one of the most important documentary photographers of the 20th century.  While Lange’s haunting image The Migrant Mother is one of the most recognized photographs in the world, few know the full range and depth of Lange’s work or the suffering and sensitivity that drew her to empathize with the people she photographed. Grab A Hunk of Lightning brings the wide scope of Lange’s work and sensibility to the screen.

Drawing from personal memories, journals and letters, never-before-seen private and archival footage and photographs, with interviews conducted during eight years of intensive research, Taylor weaves together Lange’s private and public worlds: the childhood polio that left her with a withered foot, the will she summoned to overcome physical obstacles and the toll her ambition and creative passion took on her personal life. Taylor presents an insider’s view of Lange’s challenging marriage to Western artist Maynard Dixon and her second marriage to unconventional labor economist Paul Taylor, a life-long creative partnership that led to some of Lange’s most compelling work. We see, often for the first time, the range of subjects Lange captured with her unsentimental lens:  relocated Native Americans, striking workers, destitute migrants, early environmental depredations, and wartime photos of Japanese Americans citizens forced into internment camps, images so unsettling to the US government they were impounded for half a century. Taylor also shares rare footage of Lange preparing for her unprecedented one-woman show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, an event the photographer would not live to see.

Taylor’s film is more than a retelling of an artist’s life. It illuminates the deeply held beliefs that allowed Lange to create such power in her photographs. “You have to annihilate yourself,” she said, “so you can become a vessel…to see what is really there.” By making herself nearly invisible to her subjects, Lange achieved the intimacy that was the hallmark of her work, and produced images that propelled America toward social justice. She fulfilled the challenge she set for herself inside her studio in 1933, to “grab a hunk of lightning.” The issues that moved Lange face America still, and her legacy remains a call to action, asking us to always examine the unaltered truths around us.

 

Southern Circuit Tour

In February 2016, Dyanna Taylor toured throughout the Southeast with Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, visiting small communities in Florida, Alabama, North Carolina,Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. Organized by South Arts in Atlanta and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, this annual ten-day regional tour is part of a series that gives audiences in smaller southern towns a chance to see the best independent films of the year and to meet the filmmakers. South Arts mission is to “… link the South with the nation and the world through arts.”  Grab a Hunk of Lightning was honored to be chosen as one of 18 films to tour in the 2015-2016 season. Screening partners in eight venues ranging from Kentucky to Florida selected the film based on recommendations from a panel of industry experts.


BLOG POSTS

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Grab a Hunk of Lightning Official Selection of Southern Circuit 2015-16 Tour

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Grab a Hunk of Lightning wins Best Documentary Feature Film at the Bonita Springs International Film Festival

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At the Ritz Theatre in Sheffield, Alabama

Union College Chapel Barbourville

Rector Theatre, Union College, Barbourville, Kentucky

Hapeville Church

Join the party in Hapeville, Georgia

Interview with Dyanna Taylor in Troy, Alabama. Click here>>

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PRESS LINKS

Bonita Springs Spotlight
Art Center Bonita Springs
Bonita Springs Online
Orpheum Theatre, Memphis, TN
The Commercial Appeal
WMCTV Memphis
Made in Tennessee
YELP Memphis, TN
Choose901
The Batte Center, Wingate University, Wingate, NC
Charlotte Culture Guide
CarolinaTix
CullmanSense Hanceville, Alabama
Muscle Shoals Area, Alabama
Troy University Tropolitan
Cullen Area COC
Wallace State
Wallace State, Hanceville
WSCC Media Relations

 

SC_Banner_Stacked-300x150Southern Circuit brings the best of independent film to communities across the South. Audiences have seen over 300 films and have engaged filmmakers in post-screening discussions in more than 100 communities across the Southern United States. The tour takes the audience away from their televisions and computers to connect them with independent filmmakers. Southern Circuit transforms watching independent films from a solitary experience into a communal one.

TOUR SCHEDULE

Dyanna Taylor will present and discuss the film with audiences at these venues:

February 16, 2016   Center for Performing Arts Bonita Springs, Bonita Springs, FL
February 18, 2016   Burrow Center Recital Hall, Hanceville, AL
February 19, 2016   Ritz Theatre, Sheffield, AL
February 22, 2016   Trojan Center Theatre, Troy University, Troy, AL
February 23, 2016   Batte Center, Wingate University, Wingate, NC
February 24, 2016   Halloran Centre at the Orpheum Theatre, Memphis, TN
February 25, 2016   Rector Little Theatre, Union College, Barbourville, KY
February 26, 2016   Hapeville Historic Christ Church & Carriage House, Hapeville, GA

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Awards

 

IMG_1459 adj crpThe Best Editing Award was given to Director Dyanna Taylor for Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning at the 18th United Nations Association Film Festival. The film was one of 60 finalists among 600 entries in a field of contemporary social justice and powerful environmental documentaries. Fourteen jurors selected the film for Best Editing prior to its public screening at Stanford University on October 24, 2015. Editor David Leach and Director Taylor were recognized for the quality of editing and extraordinary efforts involved in restoring and syncing archival footage of Dorothea Lange shot in the last few years of her life by cinematographer Phil Greene.

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BS Award 3DT gets BSFF AwardThe Bonita Springs International Film Festival awarded the Best Documentary Feature Film award to Director Dyanna Taylor for Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning. Dyanna was at the festival as part of the Southern Circuit – a regional tour throughout a number of southern states – sponsored by South Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

 

 

 


Other Awards

documentary nomineeSunrise Film Festival – Best Documentary Nominee

wcff-28th-laurels best doc 3 crpWine Country Film Festival – Best Documentary

 

 

 

Film Reviews

SFGATE – San Francisco Chronicle

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning named one of top three documentaries to air on television in 2014.

Paul Barnes –  Co-producer-Supervising Editor for Ken Burns

“Dyanna Taylor’s Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning is, in my opinion, the best documentary ever made about an artist and their work. Taylor manages to deftly weave the personal and the artistic life of Lange into a complex and compelling portrait of commitment, inspiration, hard work and sacrifice, its depth made all the richer for its being so personal – Lange is Taylor’s grandmother. Beautifully directed, written and photographed, the film is rich in surprises – ever hear of a Lange project called Death of a Valley (the photographs are astoundingly moving); ever known about the MOMA retrospective curated by the “photography as art pioneer” John Szarkowski (Taylor discovered and restored archival film of Lange and Szarkowski working together on the retrospective that is revelatory); ever heard much about Lange’s second husband Paul Taylor and their remarkable partnership in art and social causes (their relationship is unforgettably depicted); ever hear about how Lange wrote the succinct and artful captions for her photos – well… read no more, just watch this memorable documentary.

Alexis Krasilovsky – Professor, Dept. of Cinema & TV Arts, Cal St. Northridge

I sobbed at the end of your film because of the truths you share: how privileged your grandfather felt to have spent 30 years with her, the fact that the MoMA show lived on, even though she didn’t, and also the fact that she lives on through her granddaughter’s testament to her life, using the skillful vision that she instilled in you…This is a film I’d like to see a dozen times or more.  Congratulations for having made it.”

Le Devoir – Montreal

“Thus, Dorothea Lange: Grab A Hunk of Lightning is not a film about photography, far from it. One enters there like an adventure in which we follow with pleasure the traces of time and emotions captured through the eye of Dorothea Lange.”

– Jean-François Nadeau, Culture > Cinema

Newsday

“This film is generous where it counts most — hundreds of those photos, not a single one wasted here ….“BOTTOM LINE Beautifully done…this is a long love letter.”

Ms. Magazine

“You don’t want to miss Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning”

Denver Post

“a visual bounty of her photographic legacy”

Baltimore Sun – David Zurawick

“This is an impressive documentary…”

Syndicated TV columnist Dean Robbins

“I recommend giving total attention to this irresistible documentary.”

Front Row Center – Judith Trojan

“This powerful and intimate look back at the life’s work of legendary documentary photographer Dorothea Lange will, by turns, enlighten you and break your heart.”

The Art of Photography Podcast

“This is an exceptional documentary, it is incredibly well done,” and later continued, “I definitely recommend this documentary…it looks fantastic.”

Director’s Statement

Dorothea Lange was my grandmother. She was brilliant, charismatic, and complex. Her photographs grew out of her depth as a person. Ever since I began my career in filmmaking, I’ve wanted to make a film about her so people could experience the true breadth of her work, and understand the way she perceived the world.

DT headshot BWOver the years, as we spent time together, she taught me how to see—to literally understand that nothing is as it appears at first glance. When I was 10 in California, I collected a few rocks and shells in my hand and thrust them toward her, probably seeking her approval. Boasting, I said: “Look Grandma, look at these!” I did not get the response for which I’d hoped.  She looked at me with her deep, commanding gaze and said sternly: “Yes, I see them, but do YOU see them?” And she snapped a photo of the shells in my outstretched palm.  I felt dismissed, but also challenged. From that moment on, my grandmother’s words in my mind, I perceived the world differently. To this day, I carry a sense of a deeper truth to be found beneath the surface of things, as much a philosophy of life as an approach to art. It resonates within me, along with everything I learned about composition and framing merely by growing up surrounded by Dorothea’s still photographs – images that were everywhere: in stacks, in drawers, or tacked up in her workroom.

Most people know Dorothea from her penetrating Depression-era photos such as The Migrant Mother, images that portrayed the anguish of the times and shaped the way America came to know itself. But Dorothea’s body of work – work that spanned her lifetime ­­– is much broader than these familiar photos, and the lesser-known images are equally powerful and compassionate.  

What few people know is that Dorothea’s ability to portray repeatedly the challenges of the human condition came from her own pain and infirmity. As a child she contracted polio, which left her with a withered foot.  Each day, when she would walk alone on the streets of the Bowery on New York’s Lower East Side to meet her mother, she would hide her limp and make herself, in her words, “unseen”- safe from unwanted attention. Resourceful and courageous, she transformed the lessons she learned from her disability into an artistic strength.  Later in life, Dorothea would say she found it important to make herself “invisible” to her photographic subjects—a state she cultivated so her presence would not influence the images.

Grab a Hunk of Lightning also explores Dorothea’s thirty-year marriage to and collaboration with my grandfather, Paul Taylor. He was an unorthodox economist who insisted that field observation was more important than studying statistics at a desk. His specialties were migrant agricultural labor, the importance of the small family farm, and critical issues, as corporate agriculture expanded, surrounding access to and fair use of water. From the first time Dorothea accompanied him (as his so-called “typist”) on a trip to study labor conditions, their personal and professional lives entwined, and some of Dorothea’s greatest photographs came out of their creative partnership.

I have made a number of films about artists—their muses, struggles, and vision. But it took me years to be ready to make this film. Before I could start, I needed a clear grasp of my grandmother’s impact, both positive and negative, on my personal life.  At first, I had only my intimate childhood memories. Now, having completed nine years of extensive research, I feel able to present a balanced portrait of the public figure that was my grandmother. I’ve searched for Dorothea the woman through journals, diaries, family letters, negatives, and footage, and expanded my understanding of her place in history and documentary photography through my conversations with scholars and artists. The resulting portrait is this film.

These days, everyone has a camera. What are we really seeing? As we enhance and alter photographs with elaborate techniques, I often wonder what Dorothea would say. Her images revealed her subjects with straightforward exactness. Her sense of the beauty in the unaltered truth of life has stayed with me. “See what is really there.” Dorothea said. “Look at it. Look at it.”

Interview with Dyanna Taylor at 20th artecinema in Naples, Italy

Artecinema is an international film festival of documentaries about contemporary art based in Naples, Italy. Each year, Artecinema presents a selection of some thirty documentaries from around the world which have been painstakingly sought out directly from the directors and producers. For the 20th anniversary of Artecinema in October 2015, Dyanna Taylor was invited to screen her film.  This Interview with Dyanna was filmed by the US Consulate in Naples regarding her sold-out screening of Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning. According to Rene Rozon Director of artFIFA in Montreal, “her production was extremely well received and appreciated by the public, who gave the film the longest applause of the entire festival.”

Interview with Dyanna Taylor on 2Kasa Fox

Hear Director Dyanna Taylor discuss the reasons why she chose to make a documentary film about her famous grandmother, Dorothea Lange.

KNME Colores Interview with the Director, Dyanna Taylor

Interview with Dyanna Taylor at the Amarillo Museum of Art

Interview with Director Dyanna Taylor at the Amarillo Museum of Art, January 2015. Video shot edited and directed by Jacob Workman.