Jennie Livingston describes her 35mm dramatic short Who’s the Top? (2005) as “Woody Allen’s younger dyke sister goes to the s/m dungeon…with musical numbers.” Kevin Thomas of The LA Times called it “witty and accomplished.” Top? premiered in Berlin and played over 130 festivals including theatrical runs at Boston’s MFA and London’s ICA. Through the Ice (2005), about a group of dog walkers who tried to save a life, was commissioned by WNET’s Reel New York and screened at Sundance in 2006.
Livingston’s Paris is Burning, about the Harlem drag balls and voguing, won a 1991 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, and is, according to Variety, one of the most successful documentaries of all time. New York Magazine’s 40th anniversary issue (2008) called it one of the most influential works to come out of New York City in 40 years. Writing for The Black Film Review, filmmaker Michelle Parkerson called Paris is Burning “a politically astute, historically important document of our precarious times;” in Newsweek, critic David Ansen wrote “Zeroing in on an obscure and outré corner of a subculture, Livingston’s film ends up shedding an extraordinary light on American culture as a whole.”
Livingston’s work is, at heart, about developing what James Baldwin called “a capacity for experience;” about a decisive moment when respecting intuition leads to unexpected transformation. Other film and video projects have included Hotheads (1993), commissioned by the Red Hot Organization and released on Polygram Video, and an installation for Tina Landau’s site-specific play Stonewall. (1994) Livingston also has written for several national magazines, curated screenings and clip shows, and done lectures, talks, and panels at film festivals and universities on nearly every continent.
Current projects include Earth Camp One, a feature-length work of creative nonfiction about how the director lost four family members in five years, also about a Northern California hippie summer camp in the 1970s. Featuring original animation, the film is both a first-person story and a complex essay on how our culture views impermanence. Earth Camp One has been funded so far by the Guggenheim Foundation, Netflix, Chicken & Egg, and by private donors.
Her other current project is Prenzlauer Berg, an original screenplay Livingston will direct set in the art worlds of New York and East Berlin in 1989. Susan Stover (High Art) is producing.
Livingston got her BA from Yale, where she studied Studio Art and English Literature. She was the 2010 Stark Distinguished Film Fellow at Connecticut College, and lives in Brooklyn.
Jennie Livingston will be working with Edward McDonald on directing his first feature documentary, More Than a Village, about two gay men embarking on the process of becoming fathers via surrogacy.