Vancouver-born filmmaker Jeff L. Lieberman has just landed a $200,000 grant to be applied to Bella!, his documentary celebrating the story of American congresswoman Bella Abzug. Lieberman was one of two winners of this year’s The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film award, with money earmarked to help moviemakers finish films that are close to completion.
Bella! Tells the story of Abzug, who first rose to prominence as a scrappy grassroots activist in New York’s West Village, and then went on to champion everything from an end to the Vietnam War to the advancement of LGBTQ rights.
First arriving in Congress in 1971 (one of only 12 women out of 435 members) the congresswoman immediately cut a swath for herself. She quickly became famous for both her sartorial style and for being able to reach across the aisle while taking stands such as calling for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Lieberman’s past films include Re-Emerging: The Jew of Nigeria and the celbratory love letter The Amazing Nina Simone.
In receiving the award the filmmaker said: “Being recognized by Ken Burns is an incredible honour. I’ve long admired his work and count him among the artists who have shaped my filmmaking. He’s as inspiring to me as Congresswoman Bella Abzug, whose trailblazing fights for social justice are a crucial and under-told part of our history. With this grant, we are one step closer to completing the film–ensuring Bella’s vision for equality and democracy are not forsaken”.
Bella! will feature interviews with some truly heavy hitters, including Hillary Clinton Nancy Pelosi, Shirley MacLaine, Gloria Steinem, Lily Tomlin, and Barbara Streisand. The elevator pitch for the film goes something like this: “Decades before Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and AOC, there was Bella’”.
In addition to family, colleagues, and admirers, Bella! will feature interviews with the pioneering congresswoman’s adversaries, as well as a mix of archival and never-seen-before footage.
Streisand says this about Abzug in one of her interview segments: “Bella was way ahead of the curve and the rest of the world had to catch up.”
In some ways, that hasn't changed.