I have been a WRITER, DIRECTOR and PRODUCER of TV and RADIO documentaries and public affairs programs, radio dramatizations and news for more than 35 years. My productions have been broadcast on PBS, NBC, NPR, CBC, WNYC-FM in New York and WBCN-FM in Boston and the Pacifica Network’s WBAI in New York and KPFA in Berkeley, California along with KDNA, of the Crab Nebula network in St. Louis.
Beginning in 1987, I produced TEN documentaries, more than a dozen interviews and public affairs programs with Bill Moyers for PBS and in the early ’80’s I produced and reported for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
I have also published feature articles in national publications — Mother Jones, the Washington Post Magazine, the Village Voice, New Age, American Way magazine and The Quill. In addition, my writin has appeared in Truthout, a webzine, and traveled other social media and digital highways.
From Social Justice to Romance, from Human Rights to Storytelling
My productions and articles have addressed a broad spectrum of issues, events, ideas and voices ranging from justice, mercy and reconciliation in South Africa to love and romance in the People’s Republic of China; from human rights trials in Florida to religious approaches to the global environmental crisis; from the immigrant experience at the beginning and end of the 20th century to the inventiveness of kids in a poor neighborhood; from the cultural riches of the Women Classic Blues singers of the 1920s to the work involved being a Mardi Gras Indian in New Orleans; from new research into the addicted brain to new approaches to keeping kids in stressed families. From exploring the world of the dying to listening carefully to the craft and magic of storytellers and poets.
Besides traveling the longitudes and latitudes of North America — including Mexico — to listen to the voices of those so often ignored, I’ve pursued stories in Haiti, South Africa, El Salvador and China as well.
Radio in China? Yes, China.
Perhaps the wildest choice I made — career-wise — was to work at Radio Beijing and Central Broadcasting in China for a year in 1980. I was invited as a “foreign expert” to edit scripts and teach broadcast journalism in their English language department.
A Dozen Feature Documentaries for PBS : Producer/Director/Writer
Liberty in the Air, one of the four episodes of Slavery and the Making of America, a provocative series produced at Thirteen/WNET, New York. Telling stories of the enslaved from their perspective in cinematic historical reproductions, this series is breaking new ground for historical documentaries. Liberty in the Air provides a fresh take on the American Revolution, its prelude and aftermath.
Thirteen Years with Bill Moyers
Since 1987, I have produced, directed and co-written 10 documentaries and numerous public affairs programs with BILL MOYERS for his production company, Public Affairs Television, Inc.:
A Death of One’s Own and A Time to Change, two 90-minute docs in the series On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying; 2000;
Facing the Truth, a feature two-hour documentary about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, 1998;
The Hijacked Brain, one hour documentary in the series Close to Home: Moyers on Addiction, 1997;
The New Holy War, about the battles between Christian fundamentalists and gay rights activists in Colorado Springs; 1996;
Families First, about an alternative to foster care and a new approach to working with families in crisis, 1993;
Spirit and Nature, about world religions confronting the global environmental crisis;
The Songs are Free with Bernice Reagon, founder of the black women’s accapella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock;
Consuming Images, about the saturation and penetration of consumer imagery in our private and public lives, part of The Public Mind series; 1988;
The Battle for the Bible, on the rise of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist denomination and in national politics, God and Politics series, 1987.
Also with Moyers, 14 episodes of World of Ideas I and II; two 60 min public affairs programs, Money Talks and The Great Health Care Debate part of Listening to America, weekly series tracking the 1992 election –as well as a special feature for What Can We Do About Violence? I also associate produced the special hour about Supreme Court Justice William Brennan,1987.
Gail Pellett Productions
SHATTERING THE SILENCES
In 1995 Pellett formed her own production company. With funds from The Ford Foundation and the Florence & John Schumann Foundation, Gail Pellett Productions produced Shattering the Silences, about challenges facing minority professors as they break into the ivory tower. Although it was originally broadcast in 1997, it is still distributed actively to universities, corporations, government agencies and libraries.
JUSTICE AND THE GENERALS
In 2000, Gail Pellett Productions produced a 90 minute documentary about the search for accountability in the case of the four American churchwomen who were raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980. It reports on two human rights trials in Florida against a pair of Salvadoran generals who are confronted — twenty years later — with the doctrine of command responsibility for these crimes as well as international and domestic laws against torture and extrajudicial killing.
Produced in association with Thirteen/WNET, broadcast on PBS, 2002. Funders: Florence & John Schumann Foundation, Soros Foundation and the Jacob Burns Foundation. This film was chosen for Human Rights Watch festivals in Canada and Australia and by a library program in the U.S. to carry a select group of human rights films.
Getting Hooked on Radio
It all began in 1970 at St. Louis’ KDNA, a community radio station, part of the Crab/Nebula network, where I produced a 13 part feminist soap opera, Winds of Change — based on an edgy and nervy script by Lynn Phillips. I also produced a documentary about the Women Classic Blues Singers which I spruced up later at WBCN-FM, a major progressive rock n’ roll FM station in Boston where I worked with the feminist Red Tape Collective -producing documentaries on issues and themes dealing with women’s concerns — De-criminalizing Prostitution, Homeless Women, Women in Prison, Women in Film, Cock Rock, interviews with Bonnie Raitt, Tracey Nelson and Judith Malina, etc.
I also worked with the first women’s news collective at KPFA — part of the Pacifica network — in Berkeley in the summer of 1971. It is difficult to imagine today that the radio in those days rarely offered up a woman’s voice unless she was a smoky FM late night jazz DJ. We were determined to not only bring women’s voices to the air, but to also cover women’s news — not recipes, fashion and social events which was how most news publications covered “women’s news,” but rather to cover the vast range of issues important to the growing women’s liberation movement. In 1975 I moved to New York as News and Public Affairs Director at WBAI. While at WBAI, I produced the three part documentaryThe Immigrant Experience — based on oral history interviews with witnesses of that early 20th century experience — with Beth Friend and Nina Mendez as well as numerous other documentaries featured on this website and a play, Franco, In Memoriam along with a dramatization of the novel, The Breadgivers, by Anzia Yezierska.
In 1976 I began working in television, but also produced as a freelancer out of the NPR bureau in NYC . From 1977 to 1982 I produced periodic features for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and documentaries for the Journal. In 1979 I produced a special series of 7 documentaries and numerous programs bringing a Storytelling Festival to the air for WNYC-FM in New York. In 1982 and again in 1985 I produced two documentaries that aired on the CBC/Radio Canada, including Safe Haven— about the sensations of returning to Vancouver Island where I grew up.
The Leap from Radio to Video
In 1976 I began pursuing associate producer positions on documentaries at the networks — those were the days when the networks actually made and celebrated documentaries. The first documentary I worked on (at WNBC) — Tom Shactman was producer/director — “Winning Isn’t Everything” won an Emmy , but while I was capable of keeping track of dozens of tracks of audio, I couldn’t keep track of the visual editing intertwined with the audio.
An opportunity soon opened to shoot, edit and write short video docs and I leapt. A curator at the Brooklyn Museum had heard The Immigrant Experience on WBAI and wondered if I would produce a similar video doc to accompany an upcoming Lewis Hine exhibit. While I produced that short doc and another series on a series of American artists documenting American cultural ideas for the Bicentennial, my firey baptism in producing, directing, shooting, editing, writing for and narrating a series of short docs for the central galleries of the museum came with the prospect of the first major exhibit of Haitian art in the U.S.
Ra-Ra, a Haitian festival, a 20 minute documentary about this Easter week festival embracing voodou ceremonies, local bands, with special instruments only played at these events, double-entendre songs, dances in the voodou temples and on the roads, sequined costumes. Introduction to Haitian Art, another 20 minute doc looked at the material and spiritual worlds that Haitian artists draw from. In addition I produced a series of 3 to 5 min features on individual master artists in the show: Philome Obin,
In 2009, I produced a dramatic reading of my screenplay “Vindication,” about the 18th century British feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, with Juliet Rylance as Mary.
University of California at Berkeley, School of Journalism & Law School; Harvard University, Kennedy School of Gov’t; University of Washington, Law School; Hunter College, Film & Media Studies Dept.; University of Iowa, Journalism & Mass Communication Dept.; University of Missouri, Journalism Dept.; Rutgers University, Media & Communications; University of Pennsylvania, Media & Communications; Washington University, St. Louis, Sociology Dept.; Florida State University, Tallahassee, Law School & Film Dept; Bard College, Human Rights Film Program; Old Westbury College, SUNY
China in a Box – a Memoir
Currently working on a memoir (meaning part non-fiction, part fiction) – experiences, thoughts, digressions and investigations inspired by living in China for a year (1980-81) and working for the People’s Republic.
From Family Circle to Public Square
A proposal for a multi-part television and web series about extraordinary feminists around the globe from the 18th century the present.