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A talent who has spent years at the editing bench: Mary Stephen

Blog
A talent who has spent years at the editing bench: Mary Stephen

15.03.2021

Text: Merdan Çaba Geçer

Although Mary Stephen has been working as a director, producer and even composer in documentary and fiction film area for over 40 years, she is also very well-recognized as an editor who brings a versatile approach to the table through her collaborations with auteur filmmakers and her active career. She will be guesting 17th Akbank Short Film Festival, which will take place between March 22 – April 1, to talk about the art of editing and techniques behind creating a cinematic language.

Introduction to the art of cinema and collaborations with Éric Rohmer 

Mary Stephen discovered her interest in filmmaking through the culture magazine The Chinese Student Weekly, which was very popular back in the 50’s and 60’s in China. By reading film reviews written by important critics such as Law Kar and Sek Kei, she found out about European cinema, and especially the French New Wave. Becoming a huge fan of auteurs like Truffaut and Resnais, she moved to Montreal and started getting training on communication art. Mentioning her interest towards Anais Nin’s filmography and Maya Deren’s experimental work open to psychoanalytic interpretation during college years, Mary Stephen started shooting and editing her own movies after she graduated, and eventually her path crossed with Éric Rohmer.

Rohmer, who first invited Stephen to assist his senior editor Cecile Decugis, then started to work with her fully for his films. The first time she sat at the desk for Rohmer was for 1992’s Conte d'hiver. Focusing on two characters named Félicie and Charles, whose paths cross each other after a summer fling, this film showed the duo that they shared a similar chemistry and they went on to work for other nine movies. During this period, Mary Stephen, using  the pseudonym Sébastien Erms, also composed music for four of Rohmer’s films: Conte d'hiver (1992), L'arbre, le maire et la médiathèque (1993), Les rendez-vous de Paris (1995) and Conte d'été (1996).

Their last collaboration was Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon in 2007, and their friendship continued until Rohmer’s death in 2010.

Her contribution to the Far East Cinema and Cinema of Turkey

In the 2000’s, besides her work in the documentary cinema area, Mary Stephen turned towards the Far East Cinema and started editing Hong Kong and China origined movies. Li Yang’s Mang shan (2007), Fan Lixin’s Gui tu lie che (2009), Jie Liu’s Touxi (2009), Freddie Wong’s Jiu Tu (2010), Jessey Tsang’s Flowing Stories (2014), Amos Why’s Dim dui dim (2014), Ann Hui’s Ming yue ji shi you (2017) and Adam Wong’s The Way We Keep Dancing (2020) are among these festival favorites.

In the meantime, she collaborated with a number of international directors, who had just shot their first or second movies, and helped them create their own cinematic languages. Among these directors, some names from Turkey appear as well. The phase that started with Hüseyin Karabey’s Tribeca prize winner Gitmek: Benim Marlon ve Brandom (2008), continued with Seren Yüce’s Çoğunluk (2010), applauded at Venice, and another Yüce film Rüzgarda Salınan Nilüfer (2016).

Today, Mary Stephen participates at events, seminars and workshops organized by institutes in countries such as France, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Turkey and Australia; and shares her extensive knowledge on the important role of editing in cinema and how it is done. Continuing teaching at Paris’ La Fémis, Griffith University in Australia, and China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, as well as attending as a jury to many festivals like Locarno, Kerala, Hong Kong and FIPADOC, she was also honoured as a member of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France Ministry of Culture in 2018.

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