• Helen von Dongen Durant
    October 01,2006

    BRATTLEBORO — Helen von Dongen Durant, 97, a resident at Hilltop House in Brattleboro since 2002, died Thursday night, September 28, 2006, at the Thompson House Nursing Home on Maple Street, following a period of declining health.

    Mrs. Durant was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on January 5, 1909, the daughter of Andreas Johannes and Louise Marie Constance (Mathieu) von Dongen.

    She was educated in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London, and began her professional career as a filmmaker around 1927. She was the youngest member of a group of students, avant-garde artists and professionals in Amsterdam who founded the FILM LIGA in protest against the low quality of the imported commercial films then being shown in the cinemas of Europe.

    Extensive experimentation took place not only to improve the artistic quality of films but also to add sound and color to the hitherto silent films.

    During the 1930s she attended the newly developed Western Electric sound recording system at Tobis Films Sonores in Paris and the RCA System at UFA Film Studios in Berlin. Her accrued technical knowledge, artistic application and a facility with foreign languages took her to many of the countries of Europe.

    Among her early major productions was the filming of the construction of the powerful Dutch sea-like dike which would separate the Zuiderzee from the North Sea, thereby creating more new dry land for the building of housing.

    From 1934-1936 she lectured and taught film editing and the new science of adding speech and sound to the hitherto silent films, at the Academy of Cinematography in Moscow.

    She also collaborated at the film productions of such renowned Russian film producers and directors as Pudowkin, Eisenstein and Wertow.

    In 1936 she received an invitation to lead an experimental film project for the Rockefeller Foundation in New York for their Commission on Human Relations.

    She also produced and edited Joris Ivens famous film, "The Spanish Earth," with commentary by Ernest Hemingway.

    In 1939 she directed an experiment in Technicolor with miniature puppets-in-stop-action, for the Combined Petroleum Industry, shown at the World's Fair in New York City.

    During the war years, 1941-1945, she produced films both independently as well as for the U.S. Signal Corp. in Hollywood and for the office of War Information in New York.

    From 1945-1946 she was appointed Deputy Film Commissioner for the Netherlands East Indies, in charge of the outfitting of modern studios and laboratories, as well as educational film production.

    After one year this project was abandoned because the former East Indies colonies declared themselves independent from the motherland, Holland.

    Upon her return from one year of research in Europe, she produced and directed the film, "Of Human Rights," for the United Nations.

    From 1946 to 1948 she produced and retained the editorial supervision of Robert Flaherty's film, "Louisiana Story."

    Looking forward to a more quiet and private life she and her husband, Kenneth Durant, settled on their farm in Jamaica, Vermont.

    During the following 15 years both collaborated on an extensive study of the origin and evolution of the Adirondack guideboat, a handmade craft without which travel through the Adirondack wilderness in the early years was impossible.

    When Kenneth Durant died in the fall of 1972, Helen continued this study and wrote the book, "The Adirondack Guide Boat," published by the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York, in 1980 and since reprinted in 1986 and 1990.

    In 1988 she became a resident of Brattleboro, Vermont, and became a volunteer teacher of creative writing for three years at Saint Michael's School for grades 3, 4 and 5.

    She also volunteered at Bridget's Kitchen, operated by Saint Michael's Parish, the former Linden Lodge Nursing Home as well as at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. Her considerable gift of fine art books to the museum now forms the nucleus of the Mrs. Kenneth Durant Art Library.

    Mrs. Durant was a communicant of St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Brattleboro.

    Survivors include one nephew, Fred Durant III, and his daughter Pixie Gable and her husband Peter, all of Raleigh, N.C.; half sister Nettie Hendricks and husband Herman of the Netherlands; and other numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews of the Netherlands.

    The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. at St. Michael's Church on Walnut Street. Committal Rites and burial will follow in the Durant lot in St. Michael's Parish Cemetery. There are no calling hours.

    In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Mrs. Durant's name may be made to: Hilltop House, 65 Harris Ave., Brattleboro, VT, 05301, Mrs. Durant's home for the past four and one-half years, or to: Grace Cottage Hospital Foundation, P.O. Box 232, Townshend, VT, 05353, c/o Robert W. Backus, MD.

    Arrangements are under the direction of the Atamaniuk Funeral Home.

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