When Lois Smith offered to volunteer for the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival in our early years, she didn’t mention a few things. She said she and her husband, Gene, had recently retired from New York City to their summer home on Plum Island, and that she might be of some service to the festival. What she neglected to say was that she’d worked for nearly a half-century as a public relations expert for and close friend to some of the biggest names in the movies, including Robert Redford, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep.
Photo credit : Jim Vaiknoras/Newburyport Daily News
For those who knew Lois – and that includes a wide swath of the volunteers, filmmakers and audience members who have made the festival possible for the past decade – that was Lois, to a T. Her stature in the business, as significant as it was, mattered not at all to her. What mattered was the quality of the work. As a mentor to the festival, she pushed us to keep our standards high, and to screen great films, and great films only. She loved the process of analyzing and discussing the films, offering eager filmmakers her constructive criticism and invaluable tips on promoting their films.
With her big glasses and her beautiful smile, she would have been a wonderful subject for a documentary herself, but Lois never sought the spotlight. She just wanted to make sure the spotlight shone in the right places. Lois Smith died last October at age 84, after a full and rewarding life. We at the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival miss her dearly, and though Lois might have scolded us if we suggested dedicating anything in her name, we’ll host this year’s and all future festivals in her memory.