Alice Stone questions society through a lens

by Sandra Larson
Wednesday Feb 23, 2011

South End filmmaker will showcase her previous documentaries, and newest project, at the South End Library

South End filmmaker Alice Stone thought she wanted to become an attorney and save the world, until she got arrested at a "No Nukes" protest in the early 1980s. The experience gave her a close-up glimpse of the mundane details lawyers get excited about.

"I thought, I might get arrested again, but I'm not going to be a lawyer," said Stone, in a recent interview at her Rutland Square home.

Instead, she became a filmmaker. She has a number of short films under her belt and a wealth of film editing credits, including assistant editor on such well-known films as "The Silence of the Lambs" and "The Crucible." She is now working on what she calls her "most intense" project yet, a feature-length documentary called "Angelo Unwritten," about a foster family trying to knit itself back together after a traumatic separation.

On March 1, Stone will present some of her work at the South End Branch Library (685 Tremont St.) as part of the series "The South End Writes," sponsored by Friends of the South End Library. Stone will be the first filmmaker in the series, which has featured local writers so far.

At the library event, Stone will show her 1994 short film about women motorcyclists, "She Lives to Ride," which aired on PBS and played at film festivals worldwide, and a recent award-winning public service announcement (PSA) starring a 9-year-old Rutland Square boy. She also has some preliminary scenes ready from "Angelo Unwritten," which she expects will spark discussion.

"It's really emotionally raw footage," she explained.

In "Angelo Unwritten," Angelo is a troubled but loved foster child who was removed from his foster home at age 17, after five years with the family. The teen had started getting into trouble. The foster parents asked for a routine five-day respite, but it turned into a seven-month separation, against their wishes. Angelo rejoined his foster parents last April. Now 18, he is no longer technically in their custody, but they are trying to become a family again. The documentary will follow the family as Angelo makes his way toward high school graduation in 2012.

Stone didn't discover film until her senior year at Harvard, where she studied anthropology, sociology and social psychology. Her senior thesis was on perceptions of femininity in girls from working class families in the North End. Just as she was delving into the girls' stories and putting her findings in writing, the Evanston, Ill. native took a film history class, which opened her eyes to the possibilities of film. Also around that time she saw "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute," a film written by John Sayles that followed the struggles of single mothers in New York City.

"I just thought, 'Wow. He is exploring so many concepts of femininity and motherhood through film.' And that's what made me think I would do what I was doing-questioning things about society-but through film," she said.

She cut her filmmaking teeth in Mexico, where she traveled after her Harvard graduation in 1985 and got a job assisting a Harvard alumnus doing documentary film work there. She ended up having a lot of time alone with a 16-millimeter film camera. She read the manual and shot her first film, a 20-minute short about a local woman who created pottery using ancient traditional methods.

Then it was on to New York, where she found editing gigs by day while working the graveyard shift doing legal proofreading.

Nowadays, she is no longer behind the camera, nor does she edit her own films. Instead, she's the director/producer, creating the vision and holding the big picture in mind to bring a film to completion.

Outside her filmmaking life, Stone is mother to 14-year-old Sylvie and 11-year-old Eli. Her "day job," if she had to name one, is managing the three rental apartments in the Rutland Square brownstone she and her husband, Gary Stoloff, purchased and renovated in 1992.

At the house, the family's two-and-a-half-year-old golden lab, Clover, dashes into the dining room. Becoming a dog owner has given Stone entrée to whole new layer of South End social life.

"I thought I knew lots and lots of people," she said. After all, she had been living in the neighborhood nearly 20 years, raising her kids, holding active roles in Friends of Titus Sparrow Park and the Rutland Square Association. And then I got a dog," she continues, "and was out at different hours. So now I can be in my own alley, and someone will ask, 'Oh, did you just move here?'"

While Stone is working on securing funding to go full-force on "Angelo," she hopes to also do more PSA projects, using her documentary skills to help nonprofits tell their stories. She will devote much of the coming year to "Angelo," applying for grants and continuing to document the ups and downs of the family's difficult road.

She does not take lightly the opportunity-and responsibility-to tell this story, which is compelling in itself but also shines a harsh light on the foster care system.

"I have tremendous access to a family in crisis," she said, "and the story has serious ramifications for us as a society."

See Alice Stone at the South End Branch Library (685 Tremont St.) on Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 p.m.


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