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Tillie Olsen documentary screens tonight in Oakland

San Francisco Chronicle photo of filmmaker Ann Hershey by Liz Hafalia

Documentary filmmaker Annie Hershey’s long-awaited film about the life and work of writer-activist Tillie Olsen will be making its Bay Area debut tonight, on what would have been Olsen’s ninety-sixth birhtday. She died on New Year’s Day a year ago.

A Heart in Action will screen at the Grand Lake Theater* at 7pm (tickets $10 at the door). Members of Tillie’s family, along with Ronnie Gilbert, will lead audience members in singing some of Tillie’s favorite labor songs before the film begins (lyrics will be provided, but I’m going to guess we will not be accompanied by the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer). A question and answer session with the filmmaker will follow the screening. Hershey poured her heart and soul into this film over the past seven years — though I’ve not seen it yet, I’ve heard her talk of it, and I expect it to be an exquisitely executed homage, most worthy of its legendary subject.

The San Francisco Chronicle did a nice piece on the documentary last week. Here’s my post last year, on the occasion of Olsen’s then-upcoming memorial.

* Locals know this theater not just for its 1920s Grand Dame grace and its Mighty Wurlitzer, but for its owner’s use of one half of the marquee — which faces westbound drivers on one of the busiest Bay Area freeways — for piquant political messages, all of which are located way up Tillie’s alley. Here’s a photo log of them on Flickr.

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