Today’s issue of #100DaysofWomeninFilm focuses on the career of documentary film editor Rosella Tursi.
29/100: Film editor Rosella Tursi
1. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about the projects/work you’re most proud of?
My name is Rosella Tursi, and I am a documentary editor, although I occasionally dip my toe in the narrative world. I am based in New York City where the documentary film business is flourishing, giving me the opportunity to work on many projects focusing on subjects and messages that I really believe in.
I am really proud of The Last Defense, a documentary series produced by Viola Davis that focused on the wrongful conviction of Julius Jones, a death row inmate in Oklahoma. I edited the second episode of this three-part doc series in 2017-2018, and Julius’ story became more widely known once it aired on ABC, kicking off a torrent of activism on his behalf.
Julius was scheduled for execution in November 2021 and because of the groundswell of support for him, the governor of Oklahoma granted him clemency just hours before he was set to die. Julius has now been moved off death row, and while the fight continues to get him out of prison, he was recently able to hug his mother for the first time in 20 years. That’s something he was not allowed to do when he was on death row. I am so grateful to have been part of the team that brought his story out of the shadows.
More recently, I edited three episodes of the FX documentary series Pride, which chronicles the LGBTQ rights movement across the decades in the United States. As a member of the queer community, this project was a pure labour of love that I mostly edited from home during the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic forcing us out of the editing suite, I had been working in person with filmmakers Anthony Caronna and Alex Smith, who co-directed the 1980s episode, and Oscar-nominated director Yance Ford, who directed the 1990s episode. These two episodes of Pride were radically different from each other because the filmmakers had different creative visions, and it made my job exciting as I navigated from the queer underground scene of the 1980s against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic to the culture wars of the 1990s, which set the tone for where we are today politically in the United States.
Switching from in-person work to remote editing was a real challenge at first, by the way. I have spent my career collaborating with directors in the edit suite but never actually had any in-person contact with director Ro Haber, who was behind the 2000s episode of Pride that I edited. But we had long telephone discussions during which I got to understand their creative vision, and we worked really well together.
Somewhere along the way, I fell into a real groove working at home, and the creativity poured out of me in a whole new way. And working on Pride, such a meaningful project, kept me going in the dark, early days of the pandemic when all I heard was ambulance sirens racing up the avenue near my apartment.
Once Pride wrapped, I took on an equally important and gratifying documentary series for HBO with an incredibly talented female director, and I wish I could tell you about it, but I can’t talk about it yet!
2. What inspired you to become an editor?
I was inspired to become an editor while cutting a Super 8 film in college that I shot myself. Drawing and painting were my primary forms of creative expression at the time, and I had taken a film class on a whim. When I sat down to edit this short film, I got so lost in the process that 14 hours went by without me even realizing it. I still went on to focus on textile art for a while after that until I realized that film was a better medium for me. I’m a perpetual storyteller, and I happen to be good with detailed, focused, repetitive tasks, so editing truly is the best vocation for me.
3. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be so sensitive when you get notes. Editing is unique in that your whole job entails doing something and then getting critiqued for it over and over and over. It can be emotionally draining when you pour your heart into something and then producers or network executives pick at it. But it is so important to consider the notes you’re being given thoughtfully and that they always point to an area that needs improvement. Every editor gets notes. Film and TV are collaborative efforts, so feedback is essential. At the beginning of my career, I was personally hurt by notes. That is silly. It’s part of the process, and I wish I had developed a thicker skin earlier on.
My other big piece of advice is to do something that inspires you creatively every single day, whether it’s taking a walk while listening to a particular soundtrack on your headphones, reading a book, going to an exhibit, or watching other peoples’ work. There are so many ways to replenish the creative well, and it’s vital to do it every day.
4. Who is the woman in film who inspires you the most? Why?
It’s so hard to choose just one. If I had to pick one, I would have to say Agnès Varda, but there are so many others like Thelma Schoonmaker, Ava DuVernay, Christine Vachon, Lulu Wang, Dee Rees, Céline Sciamma, Alma Har’el and Sally Menke among others.
But you asked me to pick one, and Agnès Varda has always been a consistent inspiration to me. Her approach to filmmaking and her creative spirit are so inspiring. Agnès was so daring and so prolific. I have always been, and will always be, in awe of her magic.
5. What are your favorite films by women directors (or editors) – that you’ve watched recently?
Passing directed by Rebecca Hall and edited by Sabine Hoffman, was a nuanced and delicately-told story about two women with a complex relationship to each other and with their own identities. I was captivated by the story and mesmerized by the beauty of the cinematography and editing.
And while this isn’t a film, I recently watched the sixth episode of the HBO series Insecure’s final season, directed by Natasha Rothwell, who also writes for the show and plays Kelli, and I was blown away. First of all, I LOVE Natasha Rothwell in everything she is in. She literally steals every scene, and I am obsessed with her. The Insecure episode Tired, Okay? was her directorial debut, and she totally killed it. While I love editing and can’t imagine not doing it, I also want to direct, and I was so inspired when I saw her name in the credits as the director of that episode.
6. What can we do to watch / support your work?
You can watch Pride on Hulu. It’s a six-part documentary. I edited the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes, but you should watch all of them!
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So far #100DaysofWomeninFilm has featured:
- 1/100: film director Elvira Notari (Italy’s first female director)
- 2/100: American cinematographer Kira Kelly (13th, Queen Sugar, Self Made)
- 3/100: film editor Margaret Booth (the first person in the history of cinema to be named “film editor”)
- 4/100: filmmaker Madeline Anderson (the first African American female documentarian)
- 5/100: film critic Iris Brey (author of the book The Female Gaze)
- 6/100: trailblazing director Ida Lupino (the first American female filmmaker to direct a film noir)
- 7/100: film director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, The Invitation, Destroyer)
- 8/100: documentary filmmaker Veena Rao
- 9/100: cinematographer Sarah Thomas Moffat
- 10/100: film director, writer & producer Leila Djansi
- 11/100: production designer Monique Dias
- 12/100: sound designer Cindy Takehara
- 13/100: colorist Anastasia Shepherd
- 14/100: director Jen McGowan
- 15/100: experimental filmmaker Maya Deren
- 16/100: producer / director DeMane Davis
- 17/100: Italian cinematographer Valentina Caniglia
- 18/100: film director Mira Nair
- 19/100: director Aya Tanimura
- 20/100: filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here)
- 21/100: film director Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister)
- 22/100: director & cinematographer Nadia Hallgren (Becoming, She’s the Ticket)
- 23/100: re-recording mixer Sherry Klein (New Amsterdam, Queen of the South)
- 24/100: cinematographer Daphne Wu
- 25/100: cinematographer Cybel Martin
- 26/100: filmmaker Tina Mabry
- 27/100: composer Zinovia Arvanitidi
- 28/100: production sound mixer Camila Franco Ribeiro Gomide