Greta Schiller '77
Class of 1977
Greta Schiller’s career as an independent filmmaker was launched in 1984 with the theatrical release of her first feature documentary, Before Stonewall, The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community. The film, which won numerous international awards and two Emmys, traces the history of the LGBT community in the decades prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots.
The critic Judith Crist, writing in TV Guide, called Before Stonewall was “a near perfect blend of personal story and historical archive” that was “laced with humor and irony” It was, she added a story “of vital interest to everyone.”
Greta Schiller was born in Detroit on December 21, 1954 and began to hone her craft after enrolling at City College where she earned a BFA in Film & Video in 1977. Her earliest work included the 1976 short film, Greta's Girls, one of the first independent shorts to focus on lesbians. In 1981, she had a part in directing the 1981 documentary, Greetings from Washington, D.C., which details the first important LGBT walk in 1979.
In 1984, Schiller and partner Andrea Weiss founded their own production company, Jezebel Productions. After her breakout effort as the director of Before Stonewall, Schiller went on to produce and direct three films on women in jazz, International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Tiny and Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women and Maxine Sullivan: Love to be in Love.
Sweet hearts premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1986, and won awards at American and foreign film festivals The Atlantic Journal wrote that it “makes you glad documentaries were invented.” Tiny & Ruby won audience favorite awards at the Berlin, Chicago, and San Francisco film festivals, and was broadcast over British, German, Dutch, Finnish, American and Danish TV.
In 1989, Schiller was awarded the first ever UK/US Arts Fulbright in Film and moved to London where she remained for a decade. She embarked on a series of international co-productions, most notable of which was Paris Was a Woman, a documentary portrait of the female Modernist community in Paris between the Wars, which won numerous awards. The New York Times said “Time travel to Golden Ages doesn’t exist, but documentaries like ‘Paris Was a Woman’ are the next best thing.”
Schiller’s next film, The Man Who Drove with Mandela, is a bittersweet portrait of Cecil Williams, a white theater director who was an ANC activist in apartheid South Africa and a flamboyant gay man in the sexually repressive Fifties. It won an award for Best Documentary at the Berlin Film Festival and went on to screen in festivals, in theatrical release, and on television around the world. It was broadcast on the Independent Lens series on PBS.
After returning to CCNY to earn a Master’s degree in Science Education in 2005, Schiller turned her attention to films about science, society and the environment. In 2010 she completed No Dinosaurs in Heaven, a feature documentary exploring the crisis in science education and the infiltration of creationists in American public schools.
Schiller is a recipient of multiple grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Suffolk County Film Commission, and London Production Fund. Her personal papers are held in the Sophia Smith Collection of Smith College, and the negatives for her films are held by the Museum of Modern Art, the UCLA Film Archive, and the British Film Institute. City College awarded her the Townsend Harris Medal, Distinguished Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions to her Field, in 2012.