School of Communication Awarding Excellence
Flannery’s life on film
A new documentary on the life of the famed Catholic writer has earned high praise for filmmaker Elizabeth Coffman
Elizabeth Coffman hadn’t read much of Flannery O'Connor's work when she got a call from an old friend, Mark Bosco, S.J. He had acquired old photographs of the late author, and was interested in bringing her life to the big screen.
“Mark Bosco was putting on a conference on Flannery O’Connor, and he called me up and asked me to help him do some interviews,” says Coffman, a documentary filmmaker and associate professor in Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communication. “He told me he had inherited these older interviews that a friend, Chris O’Hare, had done. He had interviewed Flannery O’Connor’s editor, publisher—these people are now dead. When I looked at the interviews, I knew that this was an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) grant. I knew we could do it.”
O’Connor was an author, political cartoonist, and pseudo-chicken trainer, and she’s now the focus of a new documentary film directed by Coffman and co-directed by Bosco, the vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown University and former director of Loyola’s Hank Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage. The documentary on the life of O'Connor is the first film to receive the Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, a prestigious award that grants $200,000 finishing money to Coffman and Bosco. And the praise keeps coming; the film also took home the juried "Best Documentary" award at the 2019 Austin Film Festival.
The process was long—almost eight years—but small discoveries along the way kept the team going. As Coffman learned more about O’Connor, she noticed the similarities between the two of them. O'Connor grew up in Georgia, not too far from Coffman's hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. Both being from the South, Coffman described the unique relationship with her home state that O’Connor reflects on in many writings.
“When you grow up in the South I think you’re just torn,” Coffman says. “If you’re aware of history at all you’re aware of its history of racism, the Confederacy, and the ongoing segregation. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I moved to New York as fast as I could. But I don’t hate the South. I don’t."