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Art People: Julia Mintz | filmmaker

As she talks about Joseph Papp, the famed producer and director who pushed the boundaries of theater and changed its history, Julia Mintz lightly touches hand to heart.

“I love everything about Joe Papp,” says Mintz, a Northampton filmmaker who co-produced a documentary about the man who brought Shakespeare to Central Park, broke new ground by creating interracial casts, and, in 1985, backed a play about AIDS when the subject was shrouded in stigma and secrecy. The list of actors who worked with Papp only starts with Meryl Streep, James Earl Jones, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen and Kevin Kline. “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” were among his megahits.

“He transformed our understanding of what could be popular,” Mintz said of Papp, who died in 1991. His life and role in revolutionizing American theater is the subject of “Joe Papp in Five Acts,” a feature-length film to be shown Sunday in Northampton.

The film was a collaborative effort in which Mintz said she handled multiple responsibilities — from hiring, to budgets, to working with the creative teams — to help realize the directors’ vision. “As a co-producer, there’s not a whole lot you don’t touch,” she said.

The filmmakers drew on oral histories and interviews with Papp. “One of the greatest things about this film is that there’s no narration,” she said. Papp’s own words are supplemented by interviews with Streep, among others.

Her hope, she said, is that audiences will “celebrate and be inspired by his creative leadership and courage, to find their own voices and to believe in themselves.”

Many of the films Mintz has worked on explore themes of social justice. “It never felt like a choice,” she said. “It’s just the way I saw the world.” They include, for example, “Love Free or Die,” about Gene Robinson, the openly gay former Episcopal bishop, which won an award at the 2012 Sundance festival; “California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown,” which is now up for an Emmy; and “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” about the civil rights movement.

She is now immersed in directing and producing “Partisans,” a film that will tell the story of some of the 25,000 Jews in eastern Europe, many just teenagers, who, against all odds, waged clandestine warfare against the Nazi regime. She chose the subject, she said, after reading about a girl who, armed with a grenade, hid in ditch to blow up a German supply train. The story prompted her to search out and interview others.

“You wrestle with finding the place where you apply the pressure,” she says of the process of finding a film’s focus. “You’re looking for that place where something releases, and opens up.” It takes research, thought and hard work, she said. “But you know it when you hit it.”

— Suzanne Wilson

“Joe Papp in Five Acts” will be shown Sunday at
7 p.m. at the Lander-Grinspoon Academy,
257 Prospect St., Northampton. Tickets, $7.50 for adults, $5 for children, are available at the door. Mintz will talk about the film in a Q&A session after the showing.

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