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Tamara Jenkins

Tamara Jenkins

Tamara Jenkins was born on May 2, 1962, in Philadelphia, PA. Her father owned a nightclub and her mother - more than 20 years his senior - had been a hat-check girl there when the pair met. The Jenkins divorced when Tamara was six, at which point she and her two brothers moved to Beverly Hills with her father. Like the Abramowitz family in "The Slums of Beverly Hills," the Jenkins were broke most of the time and their father shuttled them around from one cheap apartment to another, always staying within the confines of the Beverly Hills zip code so that his kids could at least have the advantage of a good school system. Jenkins schooled and played with the wealthy but during her second year at Beverly Hills High, decided to head to Boston and join her older brother, who had relocated there earlier. After college, she pursued acting and performance art, eventually landing in the 1980s rent-controlled artist mecca of New York's East Village. She experienced continued success with her avant-garde performance art, and had her work produced at the American Repertory Theater, the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA; P.S. 122; the Home for Contemporary Theater and Art; the Creative Time in New York, and the Kentucky Center for the Arts.Not long after, Jenkins decided to transition from stage to screen, enrolling in the Graduate Filmmaking program at NYU's Tisch School for the Arts. In 1991, she was widely hailed for her directorial debut, "Fugitive Love." The short film won the Fellowship Prize at the RiminiCinema Film Festival in Italy in 1992 and screened at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. It also aired on the PBS independent film series, "Alive TV." The success of "Fugitive Love" led the Independent TV Service to commission Jenkins to write and direct a family-themed short, resulting in "Family Remains." The sophomore effort was an even bigger success, earning Special Recognition awards at both the Sundance and Locarno Film Festivals. It was also selected for the 1994 New Directors/New Films Festival at the Museum of Modern Art and was broadcast on PBS and on European television.Following Jenkins' pair of Sundance successes, she was invited to join the Sundance Institute - a filmmaking workshop in Utah, where participants have the opportunity to shoot, edit and show unfinished works. While at the Institute, Jenkins began developing her first feature, the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age comedy, "Slums of Beverly Hills." The film premiered at Cannes in 1998 and starred Natasha Lyonne as a fictionalized version of the fiery young Jenkins and Alan Arkin as the father. As teen protagonist Vivian, Lyonne shared Jenkins' head of wild curls as well as her fiery strong will. In fashioning more than just a comedy about an unconventional family, Jenkins tackled complex issues regarding Vivian's coming of age and body image while maintaining the film's cheeky attitude filtered through Vivian's eyes. The character saw all with incredulity balanced by a tender heart towards the family. The overall tone of the film was sweetly good-natured, even during the more broad comedy bits. Largely well-received, the film was held in particular prestige due to Robert Redford's championing (he took an executive producer credit). The film received glowing reviews - not only for its subtle, dark comedy, but for the refreshing point of view of young, female characters - most of whom are rarely given such substance on the big screen. "Slums" clearly made Jenkins "one to watch" in the industry. However, fans of the new talent would not have much of a public show for many years following the film's release. But that in no means meant Jenkins would sit idle.Determined to focus on writing, Jenkins spent several stints at the artist community, Yaddo, in upstate New York, working with writers of all media in intensive workshops. She spent a few years developing a screen adaptation of the biography of Diane Arbus which did not pan out. The tireless writer also saw her works published in Zoetrope: All-Story and Tin House magazines. Her essay, "Holy Innocents," appeared as an introduction to the book Lisa Yuskavage: Small Paintings 1993-2004. She found time to direct a series of student-written public service announcements about sex and AIDS awareness, with teenage students in Orlando, FL. She also revisited acting, appearing in "Happy Accidents" (2000), "Love in the Time of Money" (2002), and the indie film, "Us, Them, and Me" (1999), in which she played a lesbian coping with life in New York City.Jenkins' period of creative growth over the next decade finally came to fruition with her next feature, 2007's "The Savages." A story of adult siblings who, after the death of their mother, are suddenly forced to care for their estranged father who suffers from dementia, Starred Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as middle-aged yet reluctant adults. "The Savages" touched a nerve with audiences and critics alike, showcasing Jenkins' ability to elicit complex emotional reactions to her characters without resorting to easy, cliché tactics. And it reinforced that one should never bother to ask where Jenkins has been during her absence from the public eye, because she would eventually emerge with another high-quality work of art. Jenkins rightly earned critical acclaim, several critics awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.