Shirley Knight, our lead in Redwood Highway, passed away this morning. What a lovely, talented, hard-working, generous woman. She treated us newbie filmmakers with kindness, encouragement and patience at every turn. She had a beautiful commitment to and belief in the film and the story we were telling together. I can only imagine that she brought this passion and connection to all of the films and crews she was a part of.
In Redwood Highway, her character walks 80 miles from Grants Pass to the coast. Shirley was in her seventies when we made the film, and we had her walking, walking, walking take after take, carrying a huge backpack. The seasons changed. Fall turned to winter, and we filmed four weeks outside in the cold.
Shirley never complained. She just kept walking. And working. She offered advice while at the same time letting us know she believed in us.
I always remember the day at the beach (a moment that still pangs me just a bit) when I asked her to walk too far.
We had a helicopter flying overhead to get a shot of Shirley walking down the beach. It was windy, and the helicopter couldn’t stabilize enough to get a smooth shot. Shirley kept walking down the sand, back and forth in the cold and the wind, doing all she could to help us get our beautiful, cinematic shot.
Flannery had her first film scene with Shirley — a scene in the park with our dog Sedona. Shirley showed so much love and grace to Flannery and later wrote her letters.
She truly cared about us — our little family — us as filmmakers and people. She gave freely. She worked hard and passionately. She loved storytelling.
Gary and I always hoped we might work with Shirley again, but we are so grateful to have had those weeks with her and to have been graced with her professionalism, brilliance, hard work, example and absolute love and generosity of spirit.
Thank you so much, Shirley.