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.
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
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
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
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
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
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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