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Randa Haines

Friends, lovers, and families questing to find a common language-these are the characters and situations that fascinate director Randa Haines.

As the director of Children of a Lesser God, The Doctor, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway and the acclaimed telefilm Something About Amelia, Haines has traversed drama and comedy in her exploration of universal themes of communication. When people talk about Haines' films, they tend to talk most passionately about the characters-characters in moments of crisis who fight to achieve a sense of connection.

The power of exploring the world through fictional characters has always fascinated Haines, who grew up wanting to be an actress. An only child, Haines loved the story-telling nature of theatre, the sharing of an alternate world just across the proscenium. She began acting at the age of 10 and, on the day she graduated high school, hopped on a plane to New York to study with Lee Strasberg.

While working as an actress for budding directors at New York's School of the Visual Arts, Haines became fascinated with the creative enthusiasm she observed in the student directors. She decided to move over to the other side, beginning as an all-around assistant for a small industrial film production company in New York. Haines went on to serve as script supervisor for low-budget features, but fate kept intervening in the form of actors and others who suggested she pursue directing because of her native instincts, directorial sensibilities and strong rapport with cast members.

Haines was accepted into the highly competitive Director's Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute, becoming part of an illustrious early group of accomplished women who participated in the lab. There, she made her first project, based on the Doris Lessing novel The Summer Before The Dark, which set the tone for her style-a cinema of emotion. From this very early stage, Haines refused to take on any project for which she felt no passion.

Haines next took on several prestigious television projects which honed her expressive style: a public television dramatization of the lives of women's rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and an episode of American Short Story, featuring Katherine Anne Porter's The Jilting of Grammy Weatherall and starring Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Despite having had no experience in prime time series, Haines was then hired to direct several episodes of the acclaimed, hard-edged hit television drama Hill Street Blues. Switching gears again, she took on her first television feature-one of the riskiest and most controversial television movies ever made. Something About Amelia was television's first examination of incest. Shot with a delicacy and deep appreciation for the complexity of the issue, Something About Amelia continues to be praised as one of network television's finest productions. Haines was nominated for both Emmy and DGA Awards for Best Director.

In the wake of the acclaim for Something About Amelia, Haines began to develop her first feature film project, a story it was thought would defy translation to film. In this case, it was the award-winning Broadway play, Children of a Lesser God, the story of a new teacher at a school for the deaf who becomes intrigued by an angry, deaf woman janitor. Under Haines' aegis, the story not only dramatically unveiled the hidden world of deaf culture but became a moving and unusual love story about two people reaching across a seemingly impossible abyss to find one another. The film drew critical praise for Haines' direction and for the performances-William Hurt's sensitive portrayal earned an Academy Award nomination and Marlee Matlin launched her career with a 1987 Oscar for Best Actress.

Rather than jump immediately into another feature, Haines took her time finding a second project that could captured her sensibilities and take her somewhere new. She found it with The Doctor, the story of a brilliant but cold surgeon who goes through a literal change of heart when he becomes a cancer patient. Working again with William Hurt, The Doctor was admired for its gripping realism and visceral emotional impact. A few years later, Haines came across another project that spoke to her, the story of two story-telling old men living in Florida. It became the touching dramatic comedy Wrestling Ernest Hemingway starring Robert Duvall, Richard Harris and Shirley MacLaine.

Meanwhile, Haines was developing a secondary, private passion for the primal beat, powerful culture and strong sense of family she found at L.A.'s salsa clubs. Dance With Me is her way of sharing this fresh, vibrant form of expression.

Shooting in salsa clubs where Haines herself frequently danced, the experience of making Dance With Me was in some ways Haines' most personal. Yet despite the heated energy and sensuality of Dance With Me, Haines sees in the story the same themes that have steered her work from the beginning. Behind the driving beat and undulating bodies, Dance With Me is ultimately about how people fight to find each other, how they reach across cultures and loneliness to touch one another.

"I'm always attracted to stories that reflect how very much alone we are in life and the never-ending need to connect, the filmmaker says. We all speak different languages, whether we are from Cuba and Houston, like Rafael and Ruby, or grew up on the same street."

Note: This profile was written in or before 2002.

Randa Haines Facts

BirthdayFebruary 20, 1945 (79)
BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, USA

Selected Filmography

The Doctor
Dance With Me
The Outsider
Children of a Lesser God
Wrestling Ernest Hemingway
The Ron Clark Story
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