Between teaching in Bristol and collecting awards for his Lizzie Borden documentary, Lizbeth: A Victorian Nightmare, Ricardo Rebelo set aside some time to answer a few questions about his career and his plans for the future. Lizbeth airs this weekend, on the 30th and 31st, on Rhode Island Public Television.
SS: Your film was your RIC Media Studies thesis but now, with PBS and festival screenings and awards from the Alliance for Community Media and the Rock and Shock Film Festival, it's taken on a life of it's own. When did the idea to make this film come to you?
RR: When I applied for grad school at Rhode Island College I knew I wanted to do something that I was passionate about for a project. I grew up in Fall River and have heard the tale of Lizzie Borden my entire life and felt strongly that there were aspects of the story that had not been covered. My hope was to look at her life and the fascination surrounding her as well as what she is as a pop culture icon. I knew that the story would be compelling and have very strong visual elements so I felt it would be a perfect fit for my project.
SS: The PBS promo for the film advertises "The Untold Story." Without giving too much away, what unique information do you think your film contributes to the Lizzie Borden narrative?
RR: Like I said before we look much more closely at her personal life as well as her family to get a better sense of Lizzie Borden as a person. You also get to delve into what I call "the culture of Lizzie Borden," which is this huge phenomenon which has grown around he mythology.
SS: When you entered the Media Studies program, how much did you already know about what you wanted to accomplish artistically and professionally? I know you're a teacher so I'm interested in hearing about your decision to explore production rather than theory for your thesis.
RR: I had worked in television for 20 years and taught for 3 years prior to beginning grad school but I felt that there were still aspects of my knowledge that needed work and I had never done a piece of work as polished as this documentary. Grad school also helped me better conceptualize the project and get some very good constructive criticism.
SS: In this Internet age of bottomless information about everything, it seems strange that a quick search of the name, "Lizzie Borden," leads mostly to camp, kitsch and a heavy metal band. Why do you suppose this is? Do you think the fact that Lizzie was female has anything to do with the silliness surrounding some of the historical treatment of the event?
RR: That is actually something we look at in great depth in the documentary. Lizzie means different things to different people. Her femininity is actually a large part of her fame. I feel that if a man had done the crime or in this case been accused of the crime that it would not have endured the test of time.
SS: What do you make of, Ghost Hunters (Sci-Fi) and MonsterQuest (History) and the idea that the Borden Bed & Breakfast/Museum in Fall River might be haunted? During the making of this film, did you have an opportunity to spend some time there?
RR: I am not a fan of the whole Ghost Hunter culture but it has definitely become a huge part of the mythology and the house itself. I have spent quite a bit of time in the house and as of yet not encountered anything Paranormal.
SS: What courses are you teaching Bristol Community College? Barack Obama recently called community colleges "one of America's best-kept secrets" and their instructors the "unsung heroes of American education." What do you make of the Obama administration's recent focus on community colleges?
RR: I teach Mass communications and digital film making, I feel that community colleges play an integral role in offering an opportunity of education for those students who are not ready or do not have the finances to go to a four year institution just yet. I am very happy that President Obama understands the value of community colleges and how they can help America going forward.
SS: How did you get into teaching and how has the RIC Media Studies M.A. helped you in that pursuit?
RR: I think like most teachers I always felt a desire to help others and empower them with knowledge, The Master's at Rhode Island College helped me become a more analytical thinker and not just a technician. I feel a masters degree affords one an opportunity to take a serious look at their discipline
SS: With the success of Lizbeth, do you think you'll continue to make documentaries? If so, what subjects are of current interest?
RR: I received a grant from the University of the Azores to do a documentary about Azorean immigrants of which I am one. This film is a very personal one for me as it allows me to look at my heritage. It is called Island of My Dreams. Once that is completed, I am doing a film based on a short story by Stephen King. I was able to obtain the rights from Mr. King this Spring and plan on shooting it next winter. It is a Sequel to the vampire novel Salem's Lot.