Princeton Weekly Bulletin, April 6,1998
Dale fellowship supports film project
By Mary Caffrey
When Mora Stephens '98 spent last summer turning her short story of a homeless girl and her family into a script, she dreamt of making it into a film. How that would happen remained a question.
Thanks to a $20,000 Martin A. Dale '53 Fellowship, Stephens will begin rehearsals for her film, Betty Dove, in July. When she learned of the fellowship, she said, "I almost couldn't believe it. I thought it would take me years of struggling in the film industry before I could direct my first feature."
The Dale program, now in its second year, gives the winner time and money to complete a creative, independent project that will broaden his or her view of the world and possibly launch a career. The fellowship embodies the spirit of its donor, Martin Dale, who believes in the transformative potential of a yearlong project of focused effort and self-discovery before a new graduate embarks on the next phase of life.
Stephens' script for Betty Dove began as a short story in a creative writing class at Princeton. The title character is a 12-year-old girl who, with her mother, is evicted from a welfare hotel in New York City. The girl leads them back to Jones Beach, where they encounter many eccentric characters, including Betty's drug-addicted father. In making the film Stephens hopes to highlight the problems of hunger, poverty and homelessness that exist in her native Manhattan.
"I've known since I was young that I wanted to direct," Stephens said. She grew up with plenty of exposure to the arts -- her father is a playwright, her mother a singer. And she saw lots of movies. She admires directors Jane Campion and Martin Scorcese, but when asked to name a favorite, she hesitates. "There are so many!"
A Woodrow Wilson School major, Stephens envisions a filmmaking career of artist as educator, in which public policy issues will be presented through personal stories. Her senior thesis, "The Politics of Famine in North Korea," illustrates her approach. "The more I learn about this 'silent famine,' the more I want to be able to tell the individual stories to a larger public," she wrote on her Dale Fellowship application. "Gathering these limited personal accounts of the famine, piecing together the information and synthesizing the material into my own thesis has been the most significant intellectual experience of my time at Princeton."
Dale Fellowship winners cannot use the funds in an organized course of study. They must present the selection panel with a schedule for their project and a budget outlining how they will spend the grant. Candidates are considered based on the potential impact of the project on their personal futures and on society, and judges assess whether the proposal can be completed in a year.
Stephens impressed the judges with her practical experience in making a short film and by reviving the Princeton Film Foundation, which had folded after one production. To complete her certificate in Visual Arts, Stephens directed and produced Cornermen, which was based on her father's short story of a young girl's encounter with an alcoholic father who had abandoned her. Cornermen is scheduled to air at the James M. Stewart '32 Theater in May.
P. Adams Sitney, director of the Visual Arts Program, called Stephens "unique among the many would-be film directors I have taught at Prince-ton. No one else has so carefully prepared herself to undertake the complex task of making films or executed such ambitious work."