Tyler grad’s films put art in motion
Karen Dee Carpenter, who returned to Temple for film, is winning notice and awards
|Karen Dee Carpenter, a Tyler School of Art alumna who made the leap from painter to filmmaker and now is a fourth-year M.F.A. candidate in film and media arts at Temple, recently accepted a 2005 Cultural Arts Award grant from the Princess Grace Foundation USA at a black-tie gala in New York City. Carpenter won for her fifth production, “Sarah & Dee.”
A painting, says Karen Dee Carpenter, is simply one frame of a film. And that explains how — and why — the Tyler School of Art alumna made the leap from painter to filmmaker after getting her B.F.A. in painting in 1987.
She has clearly landed at the doorstep of success. Carpenter, now a fourth-year M.F.A. candidate in film and media arts at Temple, was in New York on Wednesday, Oct. 26, to accept a 2005 Cultural Arts Award grant from the Princess Grace Foundation USA at a black-tie gala hosted by CNN’s Larry King. First instituted in 1984, the awards for theater, dance and film are named in honor of Princess Grace of Monaco and her support of aspiring artists in the pursuit of their goals. Carpenter is one of just six winners nationwide in the category of film.
“I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” she recalled. As a Tyler undergrad, she tried every medium before concluding it was painting she enjoyed most. After graduation, she pursued art and exhibited internationally, earning numerous awards, including a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts award and a Partners of the Americas travel grant for a show of her paintings in Brazil.
“Then I realized what I really wanted to do was tell stories. I decided I could do it better through filmmaking. It combines the visual with literature, music and performance — all those things that come together to tell a story.”
“Sarah & Dee,” the project that garnered Carpenter the Princess Grace Award, is the filmmaker’s fifth production. The story revolves around two young housecleaners whose job takes them out of their working-class neighborhood and into affluent suburban homes and the penthouses of Center City Philadelphia. When Sarah and Dee discover a large amount of cash in the penthouse apartment they are cleaning, their friendship hangs in the balance as they argue, come to a decision and have to live with what they have done.
While the film doesn’t provide any easy answers, it explores a lot of questions about class, morality and destiny, Carpenter said.
“In a way, I’ve tried to shake up the genre of ‘road’ buddy movies,” she said.
Like all of her films, it is taken from Carpenter’s own life experiences. “I always start with something I know,” she said. “After art school, I was a house cleaner for two or three years with my best friend Sarah. I actually started writing the script back then. It’s been a long process.”
When her real-life friend Sarah read the script, “I had to tell her it wasn’t true — that I had to make it more dramatic,” Carpenter said with a laugh.
Shot in and around Philadelphia, the film uses its different locales — suburban Gladwyne, Manayunk, and the Radisson/Warwick Hotel — to explore the implications of each environment and what options are available to those who dwell in them.
In her director’s statement, she said, “My films are about strong, intelligent women on the periphery of society who have had little representation in the medium of film. It is through these characters that I explore ideas about destiny and longing and try to forage humor out of desperation. … It is my intention to make films that not only entertain and reflect upon the beautiful, but also accentuate the diversity of human experience. And in this way make people feel less alienated and more empathetic with those different from themselves.”
Film still courtesy Karen Dee Carpenter
|Tyler School of Art alumna and fourth-year M.F.A. candidate in film and media arts Karen Dee Carpenter recently won a 2005 Cultural Arts Award grant from the Princess Grace Foundation USA for her film “Sarah & Dee” (above), the filmmaker’s fifth production. The story revolves around two young housecleaners whose job takes them out of their working-class neighborhood and into affluent suburban homes and the penthouses of Center City Philadelphia.
Carpenter fully appreciates the opportunities the M.F.A. film program has afforded her. She remembers initially attempting to make the transition from still-lifes to moving pictures on her own, reading books and borrowing equipment to teach herself the art of filmmaking.
“I got tired of trying to do it by myself,” she said. That was when she made the decision to go to graduate school.
“Being in a community of filmmakers, being able to concentrate and focus and think only about film, having access to equipment … it’s paying off in wonderful ways.”
In addition to the prestigious prize, the Princess Grace award carries with it a $15,000 grant, which Carpenter will use to cover the costs of the production. She also plans to expand the short film into a feature-length script, which she will write during the spring semester.
“Karen’s background as a painter is evident in her beautiful cinematography,” commented Temple film professor Paul Swann. “She is also a wonderful storyteller. Several of her films focus sensitively on the inner lives of young women, revealing their quest for self-expression and a meaningful life. This is a rich theme, and it is exciting to contemplate what Karen will achieve in her career as a filmmaker.”
- By Harriet Goodheart