By Tris Lashea ‘22
Maryedith Burrell MLA ‘13 has a long list of accomplishments and credits to her name: she’s won awards as a screenwriter and film producer, acted on the stage and in TV shows like Seinfeld, and written for publications like Vogue and Rolling Stone Magazine. Now Burrell has combined her skills as a comedienne and documentarian in her latest work as the creative consultant for Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, opens in Asheville at The Grail Moviehouse and nationwide September 20.
Raise Hell, which explores the life and work of Texan writer and activist, Molly Ivins, made its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival with tremendous reviews, Burrell said, and currently boasts a 96% approval rating from the review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. It also received the Audience Award at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival, and was purchased by Magnolia for feature distribution.
Ivins’ career credits include a Pulitzer Prize nomination for journalism, a nationally syndicated political column, a sought-after TV pundit, bestselling author and a frequent lecturer for the ACLU and First Amendment rights. She was the author of seven books, including bestseller Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America.
“She was the last of the popular political columnists, and she was hilarious,” said Burrell, whose own background in comedy fit with this project. “With books like Shrub: The Short Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Molly Ivins Can’t Say That Can She, it wasn’t hard to make a funny doc out of her story.”
Burrell was brought into the project by her friend and the film’s director, Janice Engel.
“I kind of knew who Molly Ivins was, but when I got into the research, that was it,” Burrell said. “I knew I had to be part of the project.”
As creative consultant, Burrell worked on the structure of the documentary, helping with writing, organizing and producing. “It’s another set of eyes for the director,” Burrell explained, “a valued opinion on every stage of the film.”
“The nice thing about Raise Hell is the people working on this project,” Burrell said. “It’s a very small team. Everybody’s pro now. Everybody’s got great jobs in the business, but when Janice called them, they dropped everything and they went to work.”
Coming to Asheville
Thirty-five years after getting her bachelors degree in history and theatre, Burrell decided it was time to return to school, and UNC Asheville and the city of Asheville was the perfect fit.
“I wanted to move somewhere that had it all going on for me,” Burrell said. “So I was looking for a town that had a university that had programs that were interesting to me. And Asheville pretty much had everything on my list except an ocean.”
Burrell enjoyed getting her Master of Liberal Arts degree at UNC Asheville (now the Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences) because of the great faculty and the diversity among the students and their experiences.
“The program had some older folks like me and some others who were coming back after being professionals but not retired,” Burrell said. “There were several of us who were over 40 professional types, and then there were people matriculating from school, from getting their bachelors. So I’m in classes with people that are 25 to 30 years younger than me.”
Burrell said those classes mirrored her experience in her career, as well.
“Sitting side by side and doing projects with different ages is great because that’s how I work in a show business team,” Burrell said. “I’m always working with people of all ages. I like reaching out to other generations.”
A Message for Students
Burrell’s career in acting, writing, and producing didn’t come easily, she said. The field is highly competitive, and was especially difficult to get ahead in as a woman. Her career is by no means over yet, she said, and she has advice for current students who may be looking to blaze a similar trail.
“You’ve got to have a worth ethic,” Burrell said. “College is a great time, I think, to figure out how to have a life, how to have a job and how to organize yourself to get what you want, which friends are supporting you, which friends are dragging you down.”
“You have to be the kind of personality that always wants to get better,” Burrell said. “You have to always be taking a class. You have to always be working with people that are better than you, so you get better.”
Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins opens at the Grail Moviehouse in downtown Asheville on September 20, with a special screening and discussion with Burrell on opening night. For more information, visit the Grail’s website.