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Nell Shipman Documentary at Egyptian March 15

Nell Shipman Documentary at Egyptian March 15

The inspiring story of Nell Shipman, a successful silent film star and screenwriter nearly a century ago, has been made into a documentary titled “Girl from God’s Country” by Idaho filmmaker Karen Day.

Day did much of her research using materials from Boise State’s Albertsons Library Special Collections and Archives. The library owns nine of Shipman’s restored films and 33 boxes of personal papers, donated by Shipman’s son Barry. She also accessed research compiled over many years by former Boise State English professor Tom Trusky starting in the 1980s.

Day made the film with funding that included in-kind donations of production assets from Boise State, a $5,000 grant from the Idaho Film Collection and a matching grant from the Division of Research and Economic Development. The IFC, an affiliate of the university’s Arts and Humanities Institute, owns and sells three DVDs of Shipman’s films, available through the Boise State Bookstore or Amazon. The DVDs were produced in 1996 and are screened in various locations a couple of times each year.

“Girl from God’s Country” will have its world premiere at the Sun Valley Film Festival before coming to Boise’s Egyptian Theater at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Tickets are $20. A VIP reception with the filmmaker and crew includes a screening of “Finding Nell,” a behind-the-scenes short film, and is a benefit for the new Nell Shipman Grant for Emerging Female Filmmakers. Tax-deductible tickets are $100.

Shipman was the first of her kind — a female independent filmmaker. In 1920, she refused a lucrative Hollywood studio contract with Sam Goldfish (later Goldwyn) and moved to the remote Idaho wilderness with 70 abused animal actors, and both her 10-year-old son and her lover-director to make action-adventure films on her own terms. While in the beautiful, harsh wilderness of Priest Lake, she wrote, directed and starred in 25 silent films, sharing billing with her bears, wolves and sled dogs.

Shipman embodied the first action-adventure heroine performing her own death-defying stunts while shooting on-location films like “The Girl from God’s Country” and “The Grubstake.” Her storylines of self-reliant women overcoming physical challenges in the wilderness, often rescuing the male lead, shattered the predictable cinematic formulas of large-studio productions. Throughout her prolific but doomed career, she wrote what she knew and every story was a reflection of an unrelenting, unrepentant artistic talent and a self-reliant film pioneer.

Defining Shipman’s contribution to the history of women in filmmaking, this documentary highlights an ignored chapter in this country’s cultural history — how and why a generation of women, once a powerful force in all aspects of the silent film industry, were silenced by the major studios.


A director of 10 previous documentaries, Day discovered Shipman’s untold story in the Albertsons Archives in 2013. She enlisted an all-female crew from across the United States to complete the documentary.

“Girl from God’s Country” is currently submitted to 13 film festivals worldwide.