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Former BHS student revels in Oscar moment

A former Bermuda resident took to the stage for the Academy Awards as producer of an Oscar-winning documentary.

Julie Parker Benello, who produced American Factory, said the experience was “a dream come true”.

Ms Benello said: “I had no idea it would go to the Sundance Film Festival, be acquired by Netflix and the Obamas Higher Ground Productions and then make it all the way to the Oscar stage.”

She added that the prestige of producing an Oscar-winning documentary led to a surge of calls and e-mails from film-makers about their projects.

Ms Benello moved to Bermuda when she was a teenager and studied at Bermuda High School for two years.

She said that during her time on the island she had no idea she would later become involved in the world of film.

Ms Benello added: “That really came out of college.

“I have always been interested in global social-justice issues, growing up in France, England, Bermuda and the United States.

“Documentary film seemed like the ideal way to convey issues about women's rights, worker rights, globalisation, environmental issues ... all the issues I personally care about.”

Ms Benello founded a non-profit film company, Chicken & Egg Pictures, 15 years ago to support women documentary film-makers.

The company became an early supporter of Julia Reichert, one of the film-makers behind American Factory.

The documentary focuses on an abandoned General Motors factory in Ohio reopened by a Chinese billionaire.

Ms Benello said: “I was drawn to the reverse globalisation US-China story — and the little-known fact that many factories are Chinese owned in the US.

“The film-makers had unfettered access to the factory, workers and management, so after seeing some footage early in the process, I knew it was going to be a fascinating, character-driven, cinematic story.”

She added: “It's something that is very of-the-moment with the issues of income inequality and automatisation in the US.”

Ms Benello is now hard at work producing two very different documentaries.

The first focuses on the Larry Nassar abuse case, in which the doctor for the US national gymnastics team was convicted of molesting young gymnasts.

The second, Love & Stuff, focuses on the personal story of film-maker Judith Helfand coping with the death of her mother and her inheritance of her parents' belongings.

She urged those who are interested in pursuing a career in documentary film-making to do it.

Ms Benello said: “Go for it, follow your passions, work hard and stay in contact with people you work with along the way; always treat them with respect.”

Dream come true: Julie Parker Benello, second left, on the Oscar stage with the film-makers behind American Factory (Photograph supplied)

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Published February 19, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated February 19, 2020 at 4:20 pm)

Former BHS student revels in Oscar moment

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