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Melissa Dopp 1963-2014

Melissa Dopp

People come and go on Twitter. And Melissa Dopp, of Hanover, Virginia, had lots in her life beyond her energetic @reellives Twitter account and her Pinterest boards, many of them about women's filmmaking. Party politics, life with her partner Pattie (including visits to mountains, wine trails), extended family and friends. And work.  So I didn't notice that she was missing. It was a shock to receive a beautiful email from her sister Liz telling me that Melissa died on 27 August, from complications following surgery, two days after her 51st birthday. It was a struggle to understand that vibrant Melissa was gone.

I don't remember how we met. But it was online, where Melissa made many friends, as she did In Real Life. And it was probably on Twitter, where the @reellives account no longer exists. We also emailed, DM'ed, shared Pinterest boards and briefly met in person, when she flew to New Zealand for Jane Campion's masterclasses.

On Melissa's Pinterest site, there's an RIP pin where others from her online community have posted about how much she meant to them. Another of her friends (someone I don't know) wrote–
Social media has changed the way the world works in so many ways. This week a friend I connected with on Pinterest and FB passed away. We never met in person but 'spoke' online nearly every day and spent many hours privately chatting. We first connected through a love of critical theory and liberal beliefs. She was an outspoken champion for Progressive causes and LGBT rights. I will miss her passion, her humor, and her breathtaking intelligence. My heartfelt condolences go out to her partner Pattie, her family, and her legion of admirers.
I loved that response to Melissa's death, from someone else who met her online. It confirms and extends my impressions of her. But I found it hard to write something myself.

Then two things happened. First, I read Alice Thorpe's interview with Lynette Wallworth about her new film, Tender. Lynette is 'obsessed with work that strengthens or illustrates community' and 'compelled by stories of solidarity and the effect of people of disparate viewpoints coming together with a common goal' and Tender– a feature documentary about a community group in a small industrial village in Australia who have the radical notion to start a not-for-profit, community-run funeral service. They believe that caring for one another at the end of life is the ultimate last act of love, and they want to shift this process from the professional to the personal.
For me, Melissa was (is!) part of a group I especially love, 'of people with disparate viewpoints coming together with a common goal', activist women film practitioners who work to identify and celebrate other women practitioners of the past and present and who advocate for better conditions for our storytelling. Melissa was a significant part of this informal Twitter nest and contributed strongly to sharing information that came from sources outside it, from the journalists and critics who cover women's film as part of their employment, the academics who research women in film, from the writers, directors and producers who crowdfund to make their work. How best to commemorate her, to acknowledge loss from a virtual community which is constantly in flux, I wondered? How to show that I care about her life and death?

This is one way, I decided. Here I give thanks for Melissa's enrichment of my experience as a practitioner activist, in particular for introducing me to her in-depth knowledge behind some of her Pinterest boards– Feminist Film Theory/Criticism, French Feminisms, Jouissance ♀♀Silent Screen Sirens, Vintage Vixens to name a few. I don't know if Melissa was familiar with Australian feminist Dale Spender's work. Probably she was. And I'm pleased that her Pinterest boards are still there because, as Dale Spender's written in Women of Ideas & What Men Have Done to Them
Unless and until [women] reconstruct our past, draw on it, and transmit it to the next generation, our oppression persists...among the most powerful and subversive activities women can engage in are the activities of constructing women's visible and forceful traditions, of making real our positive existence, of celebrating our lives and resisting disappearance in the process.
Collectively, Melissa's Pinterest boards do all this. Including her Adrienne Rich board. I'm pretty certain that Melissa would be familiar with Adrienne Rich's for Memory and with these lines particularly–
...Freedom. It isn't once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark–
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.
Melissa's boards, put together, inch by inch, lots of images and links to ideas and individuals that Melissa knew and cared about. In the process, they also put together 'inch by inch' women's 'visible and forceful' traditions, in an easily accessible form. I hope they stay there for a long long time.

 Then, at the weekend, Director of Photography @CybelDP (Cybel S F Martin) sent out these tweets–

And I took part in some of a lovely conversation with Cybel and other activists– @TheDirectorList (Destri Martino, who has a huge, comprehensive list of women directors on Twitter and is about to open a new and exciting site, The Director List), @caninefilms (Ilona Ho, who has a new board for Women-Owned Production Companies) and @Femme_Mal (whose IRL name I don't know). And I wanted to share the invitation and conversation with Melissa, discuss the new collaborations that @caninefilms, @FemmeMal and @TheDirector list plan to engage with. To tell her about my own new Women Cinematographers board, building on Women With Cameras, which has some repins from her. Suddenly, and not for the first time, I miss Melissa and have to write this, even though I know it's fragmented and it's hard to do.

But it's not hard to acknowledge Melissa's warm support when she read and watched some of my Throat of These Hours play about American poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980, also a prose writer and filmmaker) and then made helpful suggestions. It's not hard to smile at her passion for Jane Campion and her work, at her quick decision to fly from Virginia to Wellington to attend Jane Campion's masterclasses, her delight that when she flew out to Queenstown the next morning Jane Campion was also on the plane. It's not hard to smile at my memory of Melissa meeting some of my mates and the inevitable culture-clashes within the mutual deep goodwill. I loved laughing with her.

And I was and am very appreciative that ever-generous Melissa read the draft of my report from my notes at the masterclasses and shared her own notes. And then contributed to a post from a group of masterclass participants. Thanks for everything, Melissa! (And I'm sorry I didn't organise tastings to complement the Matua Sauvignon Blanc that you enjoy in Virginia, when you were here.)

To end, Muriel Rukeyser's poem Then, set to music and sung by Christine White, for Throat of These Hours. Because Melissa would enjoy it.


When I am dead, even then,
I will still love you, I will wait in these poems,
When I am dead, even then
I am still listening to you.
I will be still making poems for you
out of silence;
silence will be falling into that silence,
it is building music. 

(c) Muriel Rukeyser

reproduced by permission


  1. Such a touching tribute to my sister, Melissa. You captured beautifully her spirit and passion -- and, she was passionate about much in life. We loved that about her, and miss her terribly. Thank you. -- Liz


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