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Motion Picture Editors Guild to honor Lillian E. Benson, ACE with Fellowship and Service Award

March 9, 2017 | By
Lillian Benson

Lillian Benson

The Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG), Local 700 IATSE, has announced that it will honor member Lillian E. Benson, ACE, with its prestigious Fellowship and Service Award on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at a dinner at the Sheraton Universal Hotel. The Fellowship and Service Award was established 10 years ago by the Guild’s Board of Directors to recognize an individual who embodies the values the Guild holds most dear: Professionalism, Collaboration, Mentorship, Generosity of Spirit and a Commitment to the Labor Movement.

“Lillian E. Benson has a had a long career editing influential and socially conscious films, and has been long active in working to increase minority participation in the filmmaking process,” commented Alan Heim, ACE, president of the Editors Guild. “In addition, she has been an active member of the Board of Directors for the American Cinema Editors [ACE] as Secretary and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee. I am honored to have even a small part in presenting her with this richly deserved award.”

Previous recipients of this distinguished honor include Joseph A. Aredas; Donald O. Mitchell; Don Hall; Carol Littleton, ACE; IATSE International president emeritus Thomas C. Short; Dede Allen, ACE; and Donn Cambern, ACE.

Presenting Benson with the Fellowship and Service Award will be her longtime friend and colleague Zeinabu irene Davis, a film director and producer as well as a professor in the Communications department of the University of California, San Diego. Benson has edited several of Davis’ films, including Passengers (2009) and Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant (1989).

Lillian Benson began her career in New York City and learned how to sync film dailies on her very first job — a documentary film about the first female president of Radcliffe College. Two years later, she assisted editor Joe Staton on Vegetable Soup, the multi-cultural children’s television series, and became a member of the Editors Guild. She assisted Staton on the cult comedy favorite Smile Orange, directed by Trevor Rhone (The Harder They Come), and later on TV movies directed by the legendary Gordon Parks (Solomon Northup’s Odyssey) and Bill Duke (The Killing Floor).

Benson worked on a long string of industrial films, music videos, sports programming and cultural affairs shows. For a time, she was a staff editor on the children’s series Big Blue Marble.

But it was documentary director Jacqueline Shearer who first believed in Benson’s larger talent when Shearer hired her as an editor for the acclaimed Civil Rights series Eyes on the Prize II. In 1990, Benson was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on that series and, a year later, became the first African-American female member of the American Cinema Editors, an honorary organization for film and television editors.

Benson holds an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute. She started out as a public school art teacher before leaving to explore the world of filmmaking. She returned to her teaching roots in 1988 when New York’s School of Visual Arts selected her to teach its advanced editing class.

Benson is presently an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, and has been a guest lecturer at Columbia College Hollywood, New York University, Stanford University, the American Film Institute, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, Xavier University, Converse College, Tufts University, the School of Visual Arts, City College of New York, and the Brooklyn Museum. She moderated and/or participated in numerous documentary panels at film festivals — most recently a panel for the International Documentary Association (IDA) on women documentary editors (2014) — and was a reader/panelist for the NEH, NBPC, and ITVS.

She also makes time to mentor young editors and is co-chair of ACE’s Diversity in Editing Mentoring Committee, as well as a member of the Editors Guild’s Diversity Committee.

Benson’s body of work as a television, video and feature film editor spans almost 40 years and whose projects have garnered five Emmy nominations, four Peabody Awards and numerous other honors. She is currently editing the episodic television series Chicago Med for NBC and in 2016 worked on the Oprah Winfrey/Craig Wright church drama Greenleaf.

In addition, she was part of the editorial team on the documentary feature Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016, which will be broadcast during the 2017 season of American Masters on PBS. She was the editor of Get In the Way: The Journey of John Lewis, a biographical documentary about one of the heroes of modern American history, also airing on PBS in 2017.

Benson made her directorial debut with All Our Sons: Fallen Heroes of 9/11, a half-hour documentary about the firefighters of color who died at the World Trade CenterIt was broadcast nationally on PBS and was shown at the international film festival FESPACOin Burkina Faso, West Africa.

She recently completed her second film, Amen: The Life and Music of Jester Hairston, a music education documentary about the composer-arranger and Hollywood trailblazer.

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