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Watch: Meet Nell Shipman, Female Silent Film Pioneer Who Fled Hollywood for Idaho

Watch: Meet Nell Shipman, Female Silent Film Pioneer Who Fled Hollywood for Idaho

It was 1920 when Nell Shipman, a silent film starlet and screenwriter from Canada who broke into Hollywood as a teenager, packed up her 10 year-old son, director-lover and 70 abused animal actors and left Tinseltown for the Idaho wilds.

Boise-based filmmaker Karen Day’s doc “Nell Shipman: Girl from God’s Country” unfolds this intriguing tale of a woman, lost to history, who worked outside the studio system — while making waves on the inside.

A bit about Nell from the filmmakers:

During Shipman’s time in the remotely beautiful but harsh wilderness of Priest Lake in northern Idaho, she wrote, directed and starred in 25 silent films, sharing billing with her bears, wolves and sled dogs.  She embodied the first action-adventure heroine performing her own death-defying stunts while shooting on-location films like “Back to God’s Country,” “The Girl from God’s Country” and “The Grubstake.” 

Financing for these independent films came from “angel backers” and Shipman was often traveling the 32 miles of frozen lake by sled-dog, and then, in a second-class  train seat, to Spokane, Seattle and beyond, ever-spinning gold from her prolific film dreams and empty pockets.

She was the first of her kind, a female independent filmmaker. Her storylines of self-reliant women overcoming physical challenges in the wilderness and often, rescuing the male lead, shattered the predictable cinematic formulas of large studio productions. 

“Girl From God’s Country” plays Sun Valley on March 6th. Read an insightful filmmaker interview via The Evening Class here.

Ryan Lattanzio is a staff writer for TOH at Indiewire. Follow him on Twitter @ryanlattanzio.

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