Born in Martinique, Euzhan Palcy grew up studying the films of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles. She left for Paris in 1975 to earn a master’s degree in French Literature, in theater at the Sorbonne, a D.E.A. in Art and Archeology and a film degree (specializing in cinematography) from renowned Louis Lumiere School of Cinema.
It was in Paris, with the encouragement of her “French Godfather,” Francois Truffaut, that she was able to put together her first feature, “Sugar Cane Alley” (1983). Shot for less than $1,000,000, it documents through the eyes of a young boy the love and sacrifice of a poor black family living on a Martinique sugar cane plantation in the 1930’s. “Sugar Cane Alley” won over 17 international awards including the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion, as well as Best Lead Actress Award. It also won the prestigious Cesar Award (the French equivalent to our Academy Award) for best first feature film.
After seeing Palcy’s impressive work, Robert Redford hand picked her to attend the 1984 Sundance Director’s Lab, becoming her “American Godfather”. Marlon Brando was so moved by her next project, “A Dry White Season” (1989), and her commitment to social change that he came out of a self-imposed retirement, agreeing to act in the film for free. Also starring in the film were actors Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon. Palcy adapted “A Dry White Season” from the novel by South African writer, Andre Brink. The story focuses on the social movements of South Africa and the Soweto riots, and was heralded for putting the politics of apartheid into meaningful human terms. Palcy was so passionate about creating an accurate portrayal on film that she traveled to Soweto undercover, posing as a recording artist, to research the riots. She became the first black female director produced by a major Hollywood studio. Brando’s performance in the movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he received the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo Film Festival. For her outstanding cinematic achievement, Palcy received the “Orson Welles Award” in Los Angeles.
By 1992 Palcy veered away from the serious subject matters of her previous films to show the spirit and liveliness of her native Martinique with “Simeon” (1992), a musical comedic fairytale set in the Caribbean and Paris and the three-part documentary, “Aime Cesaire, A Voice For History” (1994) about the famed Martinique poet, playwright and philosopher. Both garnered numerous awards and international critical acclaim.
On working with the director, Alan ALDA said, “Euzhan Palcy has an unusual combination of abilities. She can give you an extraordinary action sequence that gets your adrenaline pumping and then she can move right into an intimate scene between two people that comes straight from the soul. Women are often not considered when it comes to directing action movies, but Euzhan has a range that would be hard to find in most directors, male or female.”
Other works include for Disney/ABC Studios, Palcy directed and produced “Ruby Bridges” (1998) the compelling, moving story of the little New Orleans girl who was the first to integrate the public schools, immortalized in the painting by Norman Rockwell. President Clinton and Disney President, Michael Eisner introduced the film to American audiences. For Paramount/Showtime Studios, she directed “The Killing Yard” (2001), starring Alan Alda and Morris Chestnut. The drama is based on the true events surrounding the 1971 Attica prison uprising which had an indelible impact on the American prison system and jury process.
In 2006, she wrote and directed the documentary, “Parcours de Dissidents”, narrated by Oscar-Nominated and esteemed French actor, Gerard Depardieu. Most recently, Palcy wrote and directed the French three-hour period piece set in the 17th century, “Les Mariees de I’isles Bourbon” (The Brides of Bourbon Island) (2007). It tells of a romantic, historic epic action adventure where three women survive a harrowing ocean voyage from France to forcibly marry French ex-patriots on the island of Reunion.
She left Hollywood for a time and returned to Paris on a sort of self-imposed exile. “I don’t want to be typecast” she said, “nor did I want to be used by putting my name on everything to advance someone else’s agenda. That’s why I don’t have a lot of films.” However, Palcy has recently returned to working with the studios, collaborating as she says, “in a different way.” Projects include attachments by Academy Award alums, Ellen Burstyn and Sam Shepard.
In 1994, she was honored with the distinction of Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite (Knight in the National Order Merit) from French President, Francois Mitterrand. In 1997 in Amiens, France, a movie theater was named “Cinema Euzhan Palcy.” In 2000, she humbly received the honor of having Martinique’s first high school dedicated to film study named after her and was presented with the Sojourner Truth Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. In 2004 she was the recipient of the famous French Metal of Honor. In 2009 she is bestowed Officier de l’Ordre National du Mérite (Officer in the National Order of Merit) by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. She is Citizen of Honor of six US cities.
Palcy’s drive for the life and compassion for humanity inspire each and every project with which she is involved. Her passion spills into all areas of cinematic lexicon to include the animation, thriller, comedy and action genres. For Fox Studios, Palcy co-wrote an animated feature, currently entitled “Katoumbaza” to be executive produced by her as well. She is actively developing a feature film, on “Bessie Coleman,” for which she recorded the very last witness of the first African American aviatrix journey in France and an action comedy, “Filet Mignon” set in Los Angeles and Paris. Palcy has chosen “Midnight’s Last Ride,” (with Ellen Burstyn and Sam Shepard) a comedy drama and a project close to her heart, to be her next film to co-produce and direct in New Mexico.
Palcy is determined to not only make a difference, but also entertain by balancing delicate and moving storylines with a flair for eliciting astonishing performances and creating major action sequences with high energy and credibility.
“Euzhan Palcy strikes me as proof that great directors can come from anywhere-but they must know they are great directors and trust they are great.” – Roger Ebert