Mother Cutters

For years the workers who handled film in the editing rooms were called "cutters". These were mostly women, thanks to culturally embedded ideas of sewing and knitting - pulling materials together - being deemed tasks solely in the realm of women. As the male hierarchy of the film industry solidified, so too did the reality of a woman's role in it. But although their presence on the shooting stage grew further marginalised, their presence in the cutting room remained a constant: a woman's hands the trusted final component of assembling a print. And who could argue with that - at the 1935 Oscars, Anne Bauchens became the first woman to be nominated for Best Film Editing for Cleopatra (1934). She was among the inaugural candidates for this category, and went on to become the first woman to win it six years later, for North West Mounted Police (1940). Early Hollywood even relied on women sound editors like Blanche Sewell, Viola Lawrence and Jane Loring. In later years, acclaimed editor Verna Fields also saw her career start in sound editing with films such as Black Patch (1957), El Cid (1961) and Targets (1968), and helped lay the groundwork for the normality of women editors today: Jennifer Lame recently won the Academy Award and the BAFTA for her work on Oppenheimer (2023) for example.

Mother Cutters is a multi-year series of films edited by women launching in 2024 with Shaping the New Hollywood, a collection of films edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, Verna Fields and Marcia Lucas. Schoonmaker, nominated for her first Academy Award in 1971 as the Supervising Editor on Woodstock, would forge a career (despite early union resistance) shaping the New Hollywood with films such as Raging Bull (1980) - for which she won the first of three Oscars - and the Kafka-esque After Hours (1985). She remains as influential today as she was in the 1970s, with her work on Goodfellas (1990) still imitated decades on. Schoonmaker remains the most Oscar-nominated woman editor today, receiving her ninth nomination for Killers of the Flower Moon in 2024.

Following a strong career start as a sound editor, Verna Fields' gripping work on Medium Cool (1969) drew considerable attention

and her success with What's Up, Doc? (1972), Paper Moon (1973), American Graffiti (1974) and Jaws (1975) brought her a level of recognition unique among any editor then or now and earned her the nickname "mother cutter", lovingly bestowed by Peter Bogdanovich, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Following her Academy Award win for Jaws, Fields was appointed Vice President for Feature Production at Universal Pictures, but Jaws would be her final film as an editor and her tenure at Universal was cut short by her untimely death in 1982.

Fields' legacy can't be understated, though. During her time teaching at UCLA she formed working relationships with a young Marcia Griffin and the man who would be Marcia's professional collaborator and husband of more than ten years, George Lucas, giving both early work editing government information films. Marcia Lucas' journey to fully fledged editor forms the backbone of this inaugural season as we trace her earliest work as an assistant editor on Medium Cool, The Rain People (1969) and THX 1138 (1971), through her final edit of American Graffiti and her sole credit as editor on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974). Lucas' singular Oscar win for 1977's Star Wars was a seminal moment for the editor, although only in recent years has she seen recognition for her role in shaping the emotional resonance of Star Wars.

The contribution of all three women in this inaugural season of Mother Cutters is far-reaching, the films they worked on all cultural touchstones that they had a strong hand in creating, and we are delighted to present a curated collection of those films in this series.

With support of the BFI Film Audience Network, awarding funds from the National Lottery in order to bring this project to more audiences across the UK.

What's Up, Doc? (U)

Saturday 27 Jul

American Graffiti (12A)

Saturday 10 Aug

Goodfellas (18)

Saturday 28 Sep

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