By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 19, 2007
Francine Parker, a director best known for the film "FTA," a
documentary with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland that chronicles a
tour of antiwar entertainers during the Vietnam era and that was
inexplicably pulled from theaters within a week of its 1972 release,
has died. She was 81.
Parker, who was one of the first female members of the Directors
Guild of America and fought to expand opportunities for women in the
industry, died of heart failure Nov. 8 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
in Los Angeles, said Jay Stephens Rodriguez, a close associate.
"Francine was a warrior for her causes," Rodriguez said. "She was
very much in love with political protest and fairness and justice. .
. . 'FTA' was probably the single most important event of her life."
The documentary had shrunk a weeks-long tour of military bases in the
Pacific into a 90-minute film that devoted about as much screen time
to the revue's audience -- disillusioned servicemen -- as it did to
the entertainers' sharply critical political satire.
"FTA" stood for "Free the Army" -- or something more profane -- among
thousands of soldiers who saw the show despite the military's opposition.
The movie opened in theaters in 1972 the same week that Fonda made
her controversial trip to Hanoi, according to the Internet database
All Movie Guide.
American-International Pictures quickly withdrew it from circulation
under "questionable circumstances," according to filmmaker David Zeiger.
At a Directors Guild screening of the film in 2005, director Oliver
Stone said Parker had concluded that "calls were made from high up in
Washington, possibly from the Nixon White House, and the film just
Speaking at the same screening, Fonda said, "I must say, looking at
it now, it's no wonder" the film was pulled from distribution. She
produced the film with Parker and Sutherland.
"When you see thousands of guys and women with their fists in the air
who were active-duty military personnel, it's a different slant. Now,
in the context of Iraq, it's very . . . subversive," Fonda said,
according to a report on the news website AlterNet.org.
Zeiger called the film "a lost classic that has real resonance today."
He incorporated footage from the "FTA" show in his 2005 film "Sir! No
Sir!" that documents the antiwar movement by soldiers during the
1960s and '70s.
" 'FTA' is the only film made at that time that really gives a vivid
portrayal of this antiwar upsurge in the military," Zeiger told The
Times last week. "It has a huge impact on how people see the 1960s."
Rarely viewed since 1972, the film will be screened Thursday at the
International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, an event Parker had
been scheduled to attend.
"This was her big film 35 years ago, and it really got buried," said
Zeiger, who worked with Parker on "FTA" over the last year. "She was
excited about the opportunity to bring it back into the world, and
for it to have an impact."
Since arriving in Los Angeles from New York City about 1950, Parker
tried to have an effect on the role of women in Hollywood.
In the early 1960s, she was chosen to appear on the television show
"What's My Line?" by producers who were sure that panelists would
never guess a woman would hold the title of "TV director," Parker
recalled in a 1986 Times article. The game show was canceled before
she could go on.
When she produced a series of one-hour plays for the Public
Broadcasting Service called "Jews and History," a 1966 Times article
marveled at the "odds of a female producer selling anthologized
culture on television." The plays presented various contributions
Jews had made to the arts.
As president of the newly formed Women for Equality in Media, Parker
led a march against the American Film Institute in 1971 to protest
the near absence of women in institute programs that were partially
funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The protest shook the AFI, The Times reported in 1973, and the
article noted that the number of women admitted to the institute's
Center for Advanced Film Studies had risen to seven from zero in 1969.
She was reportedly the 11th woman to join the Directors Guild, in
1971, and spoke out for the need to develop an "old-girls network."
"When you're powerless, what good is your network?" said Parker in a
1986 Times article that ran under the headline "Plight of Women
Directors Improved -- But Not Much."
Born in New York City on Dec. 18, 1925, Parker earned a bachelor's
degree from Smith College in Massachusetts and a master's degree in
theater directing from the Yale School of Drama.
In Los Angeles, she produced radio and TV programs for the University
of Judaism, where she developed the "Jews and History" program that
helped her make connections in Hollywood, Rodriguez said.
Parker often directed equity-waiver theater and had worked as an
acting coach. For the last 18 years, she taught film directing at the
Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
She is survived by her daughter, Amanda, of West Los Angeles and two grandsons.