Described by friends as no-nonsense, passionate, and fearless, Beth Bird (Integrated Media and Film/Video MFA 03) did not shy from controversial and potentially dangerous subjects in her films. When Bird enrolled at CalArts in 2000, she had already completed two documentaries: D2KLA (2000) about the sometimes violent protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and Love Knows No Borders (1997), which spotlighted the discriminatory U.S. immigration policy against lesbians and gay men.
Bird, who passed away at age 54 in March, immediately set to work on her thesis film about the citizens of the Tijuana community of Maclovio Rojas, whom she followed over three years as they fought the state government’s attempts to evict them from their homes to make way for maquiladoras—factories run by multinational corporations. That documentary, Everyone Their Grain of Sand (2004), which she filmed by herself, would go on to win a jury award for best documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival. “Beth had a deep sense of social justice,” said Rebecca Baron, director of the CalArts Program in Film and Video and faculty in Film/Video, who was Bird’s mentor at CalArts. “A lot of her work was in service to activism, and she developed her filmmaking true to those commitments. She was also one of the most articulate people I knew who was fierce in her arguments in an inspiring way.”
Bird had a long career as a post-production supervisor for numerous documentaries and was an adjunct lecturer for many years at UC San Diego, California College of the Arts, and San Francisco Art Institute. She was also actively involved in the International Documentary Association as a longtime board member. A few years ago, she returned to school to pursue a Ph.D. in the Department of Film and Media at UC Berkeley. “Beth had always in one way or another oscillated between scholarship and production, with a focus on social documentary,” said Bird’s wife, Betti-Sue Hertz. “While she was on the cusp of formulating her thesis topic when she had to withdraw from the program because of her illness, Beth had moved into new territory and new technology, landing in the sphere of surveillance studies, which was for her an expansion of her primary core interest in the abuses of power and control on the populace.”