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Ellen Andors

Teacher, videographer, revolutionary

By Sue Harris and Janet Mayes

Ellen Andors--Ph.D., videographer, anthropologist, teacher, communist--died on Aug. 2 from complications due to endometrial cancer. She was 54.

Ellen had been trained early in Marxist theory, and she combined her revolutionary political orientation with an intense interest in individual human development and communication. She became an anthropologist and spent two years living in a small village on top of a mountain in Nepal. Her work with a group of teenaged women in that village and her Marxist orientation to human and social/economic development formed the basis for her Ph.D. thesis.

Ellen took media very seriously. She read voraciously and was on every conceivable subscription list. She followed the history of documentary film makers and could tell you about the development of film in countries all over the world, in places generally not known by the United States mainstream for filmmaking, such as Senegal and Martinique. An avid moviegoer, she didn't frequent the top ten box office hits. Joining her for an evening of underground films, you came away educated and aroused.

Ellen taught anthropology at Borough of Manhattan Community College and the City University system for 25 years. She tried to impart much more than academic information to her students. A gadfly, she used multi-media to awaken her students to the realities of the rotten capitalist system. She was well aware that political organizing could go on in many forms, sharing that knowledge with her students and more broadly through the Internet. She compiled an immense collection of political and anthropological videos for her students and colleagues. Her major concern was to break through people's apathy and depression and to impart a sense that they could change the world, that they were not alone.

For 15 years, Ellen was a member of the 4th Wall Political Theater Company, a Marxist-oriented theater collective that imparted a political messages in five weekly shows at the Truck and Warehouse Theatre in Manhattan. The collective played at rallies and union halls, and toured the Soviet Union four times. Ellen played the piano and performed in the comedy revue and children's shows. She was an accomplished mime and comic, particularly loving the role of a playful dog in productions such as "Lions, Leopards and Litterbugs" a children's musical about protecting the environment from capitalist ravaging, and "Toto and the Wizard of Wall Street."

As part of the collective, Ellen helped develop an organic food coop. In their summer rehearsal residence, she was often responsible for the kitchen, and she routinely cooked sumptuous meals for 250 people, using vegetables from a huge organic garden, which she lovingly tended.

When the 4th Wall closed, Ellen began hunting for another group that would provide an outlet for her political principles. Ellen already knew about Sam Marcy and Workers World Party. Ellen had often been a silent observer at demonstrations and rallies. She was very shy, but she was also very observant. The Party's combination of theory with activist struggle appealed to her and she determinedly began making herself available at events such as the Pencils for Cuba rally at Symphony Space. Not long after, she joined the Party.

Quickly gravitating to the videographers in the Party, Ellen became a driving force in Peoples Video Network. She edited and produced "Metal of Dishonor" and "The Prison-Industrial Complex: An Interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal," two classic political videos, still broadcast around the world. She also produced "Eyewitness Sudan: War of the Future," about the NATO bombing of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory.

A meticulous editor, Ellen drew upon her vast collection of archival material and hunted fiercely for more images that would tell the story and wake people up. She could not tolerate sloppiness. She was a stickler for detail.

Although very shy, Ellen was a fighter. She had a temper. She shouted and cried her way through every productive project she engaged in. Yet underneath all the exasperation was a determination to make it work. She harangued her students, urging them to think and they came away loving her, their lives changed. She wailed in the editing studio, predicting one editing disaster after another, while producing brilliant videos.

Likewise, she fretted over every detail about how to bring up her adopted daughter, Nora Maya, and lovingly raised a child, now 8 years old, who is beautiful, open and friendly, curious, and unafraid of the world. Nora is named after Nora Astorga, a hero of the Nicaraguan Revolution.

Ellen attended an Independent Media Conference in Cuba and gave a talk on the use of alternative media, based on an article she wrote for the PVN Web site. As Ellen conceived it, "Alternative media must serve as an organizer for change, for bringing people together, for shedding light on the processes that create the world we live in and what it takes to change that world for the better. We as alternative media people need to coordinate our collective efforts in that direction."

At the Media's Dark Age conference in Greece, Ellen interviewed many prominent journalists who were actively engaged in opposing the U.S./NATO drive to rule the world. Her experience in Greece bolstered her interest in producing a video exposing NATO's role as imperialism's henchman. She began to compile footage for a project that she would not be able to complete.

Tragically, in the late winter of 1998, Ellen began her long battle with cancer. She fought her illness the way she fought injustice and apathy--fiercely and with every fiber of her being.

Several days before she passed away, she told her friends that she dreamed Mumia Abu-Jamal was free. Minutes before she died, they assured her that our efforts would indeed set Mumia free, that the revolution would ultimately triumph, and that she had played no small role in the struggle.

Ellen Andors, presente!

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