Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Frieda Lee Mock Champions ‘Ruth’ In Her Own Words
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Monday, April 12, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

As the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down the United States in March 2020, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Frieda Lee Mock decided to jump on a plane and head to the Sun Valley Film Festival,  anyway.

“I couldn’t not be there for the premiere of ‘Ruth’ if they did have it,” the part-time Sun Valley resident said of her film, which was to have headlined the festival. “Of course, the next day they had to call off the festival—oh my goodness, we had no idea how serious the pandemic was at that time.”

Mock watched the summer come and go without her film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg making it into the movie theaters. She grimaced as Ginsburg died, knowing how many people would have wanted to watch the film at that time. And, finally, as theaters began reopening, the film got a theatrical release on Valentine’s Day 2021, along with other viewing platforms, such as Starz.

This week it’s back in the Sun Valley Film Festival, one of numerous documentaries and feature narratives that viewers will be able to watch between Wednesday, April 14, and Sunday, April 18, from their home.

Mock said she was asked to do the film by two executive producers.

“How lucky I was that I was asked to do this film!” she said. “The impact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had—what a giant!”

Mock had already had some contact with the Supreme Court Justice, having given her a copy of “Anita,” the film she had done on Clarence Thomas accuser Anita Hill. Ginsburg, who had been interested in gender equality issues, sent her a “very from the heart note of thanks.”

“I knew she had limited time and didn’t have the time to do filming like I did with Anita where I followed her around for a year and a half,” Mock said. “And we realized the way we wanted to tell her story was not following her around in her 80s.”

Instead, Mock and her team did a deep dive into “so much rich material” from Ginsburg’s earlier life. They spent months reading through Ginsburg’s court opinions and watching hundreds of hours of footage.

It was fascinating but overwhelming for Mock, who had attended law school.

“But we felt we could see her grow as we told her story,” she said. “At the same time, we realized the consistency in her ideas about the law and the Constitution. She truly believed the preamble, ‘We the people’--that we should become more inclusive. And this remained a constant in her life even as she grew older.”

Ruth” is not a biography like “RBG.” Rather, it uses archival footage—even Ginsburg’s meeting with a group of Indianapolis schoolchildren--to look at Ginsburg’s ideas and beliefs, her views of her career and the landmark court cases that changed gender representation.

It shows her passion as she recalls the cases she worked prior to her Supreme Court appointment. And it shows her empathy for women like Lilly Ledbetter, a woman who discovered her pay was half of what her male colleagues at Goodyear Tires received for the same work.

It also shows how she got the nickname “the great dissenter” as she argued against cases designed to pare back rights for women.

At the same time, the film shows a lighter side of Ginsburg as she discusses her marriage with her husband Martin—her biggest champion, her Jewish childhood during World War II and her friendship with conservative Supreme Court Justice Atonin Scalia.

Mock says one of the challenges was creating a film making the law accessible for general audiences.

“I wanted to reach the kids, junior high school students so they can be brought into the conversation. Ginsburg liked to have students visit her. The film reflects her interest in young people—the fifth graders in Indianapolis is my favorite scene.”

Mock said she was blown away by how productive Ginsburg was throughout her life.

“Her work ethic was fabulous. Besides the obvious, she authored more than 200 majority opinions.  in her 40s, she authored a definitive study of social discrimination law. It was a very thick book, the first of its kind. She learned Swedish when she was in early thirties because she had the chance to do a book on Swedish Civil Procedure. And she wrote a definitive book on Swedish Civil Procedure.”

Mock also Mock said Ginsburg also was the architect of gender law, writing the first law school casebook on sex discrimination while working full time as a tenured professor at Columbia.

She was not even on President Clinton’s shortlist for the Supreme Court. But her husband Marty campaigned on her behalf and the six cases she’d argued at the Supreme Court convinced Clinton she was the right choice.

And what would Ginsburg think of the predominately conservative Supreme Court and of the chaos and hatred that’s swept the nation?

“She once said that a great man had said that the true symbol of the United States was not the bald eagle but the pendulum,” Mock said. “And, when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back. In the end, she took a long view of life, of history. She did have a long view. She had hope, a lot of hope.”

Mock hopes that all viewers, but particularly young people, will be inspired to become involved in the nation’s civic life, realizing how much Supreme Court cases affect every facet of life, including the right to choose health care.

“I hope they will look at the film and say, ‘Yes, I want to be as involved as I can be.’ ”

What’s on Mock’s to-do list now?

“I’m working with Asian-American assault issues. We’re trying to help the public understand that Asian-Americans are Americans first, like the Italians. We just come from different parts of the world.”

Frieda Lee Mock has a long list of award-winning films, including “Sing!” about a Los Angeles children’s chorus struggling against cutbacks; “Maya Lin,” which tells the story about the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “Never give Up,” about the Vienna-born musician Herbert Zipper, who survived three concentration camps to go on to bring music to the inner city schools of America. She also did films on Rose Kennedy and Lillian Gish, among others.

SUN VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL GOES VIRTUAL

The 10th annual festival kicks off Wednesday April 14 and runs through Sunday, April 18. Viewers can watch a variety of films and three coffee talks featuring Ethan Hawke, Gal Gadot and Shaka King at their convenience during those five days.

To learn more, see Eye on Sun Valley’s April 6 story “Gal Gadot, Ethan Hawke, Shaka King in Sun Valley Film Festival Lineup.” Or, visit https://sunvalleyfilmfestival.org

 

 

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