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in Filmmaking
on Feb 2, 2010

I didn’t know documentary film editor Karen Schmeer, but I certainly knew her work. Her first credited feature, Errol Morris’s Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, is one of my all-time favorite documentaries and a Filmmaker magazine cover story. Brilliantly constructed, it weaves portraits of four oddball individualists and dreamers into a single meditative essay on creativity, self-worth and man’s desire for legacy. The film would be an incredible feat for even the most seasoned of editors; that she cut it early in her career is astounding to me. She also edited The Fog of War and Mr. Death (again, both excellent), and she won the Documentary Editing Award last year at Sundance for her work on Greg Barker’s Sergio.

As many of you know, Schmeer was killed in Manhattan on Friday night in a hit-and-run accident — struck by the car of three men apparently pursued by police and fleeing from a robbery attempt. “In a business full of huge egos — and believe me, she’s worked with a few of them — she was completely modest and incredibly self-effacing about her immense talent,” Barker was quoted as saying in the New York Times article linked above. “She has that quality that the best editors have. It’s a kind of magical quality,” director Rob Moss said. “When she cuts a Lucia Small film, it looks like Lucia Small’s; when she cuts Errol’s films, they look like Errol’s; when she cuts mine, they look like mine.” In a tribute at The Oregonian, director Liz Garbus said of the Portland native, “She got inside the heads of the subjects of the stories that she was telling and brought out their humanness their humor and their darkest moments; (they) kind of commingled in this symphony. She was an intellectual, but she was funny. She just combined all of these qualities that made for the best type of storytelling.”

At All these Wonderful Things, A.J. Schnack posts more comments by Barker, issued at the Sundance Awards ceremony when he gave the award to this year’s winner.

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