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ReFocus: The Films of Barbara Kopple

Edited by Jeff Jaeckle, Susan Ryan

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A collection of critical essays on Barbara Kopple: director, documentarian and female filmmaking pioneer

As the first woman to win two Best Documentary Oscars and the recipient of numerous lifetime achievement awards, Barbara Kopple deserves scholarly attention. Two of her early documentaries, Harlan County USA and American Dream, not only won Academy Awards but are foundational within the study of documentary as a whole.

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Notes on contributors

Foreword, Bill Nichols

Barbara Kopple: A Career of Personal Crises and Creative Tensions, Jeff Jaeckle


Historical Contexts & Cultural Commentary

Harlan County USA and the Documentary Form: A 40-Year Retrospective, E. Ann Kaplan

American Dream in God’s Country: Odysseys in Documentary, Hospitality, Place, Paula Rabinowitz

The Kopple Effect: Women Directing Documentaries, Tom Zaniello

Gender Agency: Harlan County USA, Shut Up & Sing, and This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, Kate Hearst

The Peekskill Projects: Race, Riots, and Paul Robeson, Jeff Jaeckle

Celebrity and Vulnerability in Three Documentaries by Barbara Kopple, Heather McIntosh


Technique: Interviews, Music, Funding, and Fiction Filmmaking

Fallen Champ: Poetics of the Documentary Interview, Leger Grindon

Which Side Are You On: An Intersectional Approach to Music in Three Films by Barbara Kopple, Augusta Palmer  

Blurring Lines and Intersecting Realities in Barbara Kopple’s Fictional Work, Susan Ryan

Kopple’s Work Within the Changing Documentary Business Ecology, Patricia Aufderheide

Exposing the Lethal Gaze in Shut Up & Sing and Running from Crazy, Jaimie Baron


Impacts: Critical Reception and Ongoing Influence

Barbara Kopple: Acolyte to Leading Light, Betsy A. McLane

Kopple & Her Critics, Gregory Brown


Afterword: Getting Inside, John Corner

About the Author

Jeff Jaeckle is the editor of Film Dialogue (Wallflower Press, 2013) and co-editor (with Sarah Kozloff) of ReFocus: The Films of Preston Sturges (EUP, 2015). His scholarship on language in cinema, aesthetics and Hollywood film has also appeared in Film Quarterly, New Review of Film and Television Studies and Quarterly Review of Film and Video. He holds a doctorate from the University of Texas-Austin and teaches at Portland Community College.

Susan Ryan holds a doctorate in Cinema Studies from NYU and teaches documentary production and film studies at The College of New Jersey. She worked with Barbara Kopple for several years as a producer and archival researcher on Fallen Champ, Defending Our Daughters, My Generation, A Conversation with Gregory Peck, and several other documentaries. She is also the producer/director of From the ‘Burg to the Barrio (2012).


This exceptional and timely collection provides a perfect companion to the films of Barbara Kopple, one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of our time. The editors have done a superlative job drawing together a series of compelling and original essays from a range of international scholars in documentary film studies and beyond, resulting in a work that makes its mark as a key addition to the history of activist cinema. The Films of Barbara Kopple offers varied and in-depth contexts and analyses of one of the most politically engaged and passionate filmmakers of her generation.   

- Jeffrey Geiger, author of American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation

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