Alumna Spotlight: Heidi Elizabeth Philipsen-Meissner, RC '95
Story by Robby Griswold
Heidi, like many of the College's alumni, has a list of accomplishments longer than it'd be appropriate to print.
She has a curriculum vitae to boast about, including her RC/LSA degree in Film, Theater & German Literature, a certificate in Germany Fluency from the Goethe Institute, a Masters Degree in International Media and Communications from Columbia University, a Graduate Training Certificate in Directing, Screenwriting and Cinematography from the Motion Picture Institute - and she recently returned to school to pursue her MBA.
Heidi is the definition of a voracious learner. But it's her varied and diverse professional and personal résumé that got our attention, and the density of her schedule that is especially laudable. She crafts her life intentionally with every single step. You didn't read it above, but she gave birth to her son two weeks after graduating with her Masters Degree at Columbia. She has written for the English page of the German magazine, Die Welt, and her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Bitch Flicks, and many other publications. She has performed in plays off-Broadway. Her films have been presented at the Marche du Film at Cannes, the Reel Women International Film Festival, the Electric City Film Festival, the Manhattan International Film Festival, the Park City Film Festival, Salty Horror Film Festival, and many more. She founded a chapter of Women in Film and Television for women professionals in the industry living and working in upstate New York. She did what so few women have done before her: produced, directed and starred in her own picture called Darcy under the auspices of her own production company, Personae Entertainment Pictures. The film addresses poverty, sexual abuse and female coming of age, and it creates a "faux normalcy in this environment which is anything but normal, and which even common sense tells us should be threatening", says film critic Jim Dixon.
When I asked her what she is most proud of, she took a very personal turn. She mentioned mentoring over 20 women (and men) in her career thus far. She mentioned being there for her mom after her father died unexpectedly and how she needed to share it with others because "our caretakers are so important in this country and it is much easier said than done!" She then told me that she is a rape survivor. "I've overcome my hurdles of PTSD to achieve my dreams in health and happy humility - all while spreading awareness." Whether or not it is related to this major life event, Heidi's career is a veritable masterclass in the advancement of women artists in the film industry. She fights a lot of nay-saying that is particularly aimed at women. "[I've had] the courage to follow my dreams of directing and acting and producing as a mother in her 40s after nearly everyone said 'YOU CAN'T because your time is up.'" She says her RC education helped push her in the right direction and embolden her to make her own professional path "as a pioneer."
Because she crafted her major from multiple disciplines, faculty from multiple departments impacted Heidi's U-M experience. In 2005, she collaborated once again with Drama faculty Kate Mendeloff, who directed her and her son, Max, as Titania and her little prince in A Midsummer Nights Dream for the RC /Nichols Arboretum program, Shakespeare in the Arb. She forged a close relationship with Janet Hegman Shier in the RC German program as an undergrad, whom she continues to visit when she's in Michigan. "I would have never gone to Germany to study abroad if it weren't for the Residential College intensive German program or its Brechtian Theater - which prompted me to further study and receive an apprenticeship at one of the major independent social/political theaters in Berlin in the 90s."
It was in Germany that she met her husband, at the Kirchzarten train station between Freiburg and the Black Forest. They've recently packed up their home in upstate NY and have moved to Germany because Heidi is working on a new project. "I’ve been brought on to direct the international German-language comedic foreign feature film “Maria Sucht Josef” (“Mary Seeks Joe”), written by Nicole Joens, currently in development by Cindigo Film with producers Nicole and Philip Joens - and a planned February 2019 production in Munich and Austria." The project brings together key threads in Heidi's studies and professional priorities: German language and culture; film; and advancing women as filmmakers. Additionally, two screenplays she wrote while enrolled in UCLA's Professional Screenwriting program, "Kidnapping Love" and "Emily Doe", are currently in development, as is a rom-com set in Ukraine. And she's circling back to her home state by laying the foundation for a sister organization to Women in Film and Television organization for Michigan women filmmakers.
Congratulations, Heidi, on all your successes thus far. Thank you for sharing your story with us. We are proud to call you an RC alum!
RC students are encouraged to see Robby Griswold in Greene 1812 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get Heidi's contact information.
Photos provided by Heidi Elizabeth Philipsen-Meissner