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Remembering Pat Dowell, Longtime Film Reporter For NPR

Apr 21, 2015
Originally published on April 23, 2015 7:33 am

Pat Dowell, a freelance film reporter for NPR, died on Sunday. Dowell had been dealing with health issues for some time, but her death came as a surprise. She was 66 years old.

Pat was a freelancer for us for close to 30 years. Before that, she was a film critic for a number of publications and first appeared on our air in that capacity in 1974, when she talked to then-All Things Considered host Susan Stamberg about the TV series Rhoda and feminism.

Her first piece as a reporter for NPR was on Susan Seidelman's 1987 film Making Mr. Right. And when she made the transition from critic to reporter, she was adamant that that was what she was. She researched every story she did exhaustively. If I had a question during one of our edits, she had the answer — and she could answer at length, going into the most specific details off the top of her head. She knew her stuff, she knew film history and she knew about the art and process of filmmaking.

To get a sense of the breadth of her knowledge and interests, here's a partial list of the filmmakers whose work she covered — take a moment to read through it: Bernardo Bertolucci, Pedro Almodovar, Mike Leigh, Kenneth Branagh, Sally Potter, Gus Van Sant, Claude Chabrol, Robert Altman, Terry Gilliam, Andrzej Wajda, Bill Plympton, Lars von Trier, Baz Luhrmann, Martin Scorsese, Margarethe von Trotta, Ingmar Bergman, John Waters, Milos Forman, James Cameron, Ang Lee, Peter Greenaway, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Spike Jonze, David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh, Oliver Stone, James Marsh, Wim Wenders, Isabella Rossellini, Werner Herzog and Jean-Luc Godard.

Pat was interested in serious films, films that told stories worth hearing, and she was dedicated to telling them. She approached her interviews with the stars as seriously. She talked to, among many others: George C. Scott, Isabel Huppert, Billy Bob Thornton, Tilda Swinton, Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Burns, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anthony Hopkins, Harvey Keitel, Ellen Burstyn, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Lee, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Hallyday, Steve Buscemi, Anjelica Huston, Jonathan Winters, Nicole Kidman, Kevin Kline and Mads Mikkelsen.

She did our obituaries for Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, among others.

She reported on black independent filmmakers, women filmmakers, Baroque music in All the Mornings of the World, film preservation and film restoration, theremins, Native American poet John Trudell, audio description in movies for the blind, the U.S. film market abroad, the foreign film market in the U.S., movie merchandising, a series on the 100th anniversary of film, the Irish film industry, rediscovered Czech films, the Black Maria Film Festival, immigrants in film, film composers, film censorship, horror films, the mythology behind Star Wars, presidents in film, the first film from Bhutan (The Cup), science fiction in film, Westerns (a favorite subject), political thrillers and the Rothko Chapel.

Pat was one of the smartest people I ever met. And most of all, she really, really wanted to share what she knew with whoever wanted to listen. She is survived by her husband of 44 years, Ray Heinrich.

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