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November 26th, 2008
About the Filmmakers

Executive Producer, Film Odyssey
Director, Producer & Writer, Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood

Karen Thomas is an award-winning producer whose television productions are broadcast nationally in prime-time on PBS. Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood continues Film Odyssey’s interest in biographical subjects and its long-standing association with AMERICAN MASTERS and Thirteen/WNET. Her biographical documentaries include Isaac Stern: Life’s Virtuoso, Robert Rauschenberg: Inventive Genius, and Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul. Historical productions include The GI Bill: The Law That Changed America, a history of the Washington National Cathedral, and programs on the American Bill of Rights. She produced a four-part series Dinosaurs!, narrated by Barbara Feldon; and A Gift from the Past, a special on the Makah Indian Nation, narrated by Wes Studi.

Prior to forming Film Odyssey in 1986, Karen Thomas was Vice-President of The Film Company, in Washington, DC, where she co-produced the television documentary Herman Melville, Damned in Paradise, produced a documentary about race and politics, and put into production a three-part series on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe.

Karen Thomas began her television career at the Public Broadcasting Service, where responsibilities included working with independent producers, management of program discretionary funds, and the initiation of a long-term program planning system.

Executive Producer, Thirteen/WNET New York

Ms. Smilow joined Thirteen/WNET as Director of Culture and Arts Documentaries in 1997. Recently she completed Barenboim on Beethoven on DVD (a six volume set distributed by EMI Classics) which features the great pianist performing all 32 Piano Sonatas (and 6 master classes) which won the prestigious “Jury Nomination” prize for best “Recording of the Year” as well as in the category of “Best Concert DVD” at the 2008 Midem Classical Music Awards, dedicated exclusively to honoring classical music in all its forms. Dream of Life about punk rocker and poet Patti Smith opened in competition at Sundance and won best cinematography 2008, and is in theatrical release and Simon Schama’s Power of Art, the 8 part television history of the creative moment that featured 8 artists won an International Emmy Award for the episode on Bernini.

Margie Smilow received the 1999 Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Classical Music -Dance Program for her film Itzhak Perlman: Fiddling For The Future and a Non-Fiction Series Emmy for Leonard Bernstein: Reaching For The Note. Her projects for GREAT PERFORMANCES include Maestro: Portrait of Valery Gergiev, Barenboim on Beethoven, Kurosawa, Making the Misfits and Degas and the Dance, which won a Peabody Award.

She is completing post production on You Cannot Start Without Me, a portrait of conductor Valery Gergiev for theatrical and DVD release as well Harlem in Montmartre, the story of what made jazz International, The Music Instinct on the science of how music effects us and Paris: The Luminous Years on the exciting birth of modernism in Paris.

  • Joan Peters

    I grew up in Chapel Hill with you, Karen Thomas, but had never before Jan. 1 seen a film that I knew was yours. I have just watched “Cinema’s Exiles” and liked it very much. Happy New Year!

  • Thomas Rimer

    This was an altogether absorbing opportunity to view such an important phase in the development of American film culture. I very much hope that a DVD will be issued as soon as possible, so that there can be a chance to see this documentary more than once. any chance?


  • Hyde Flippo

    I second the suggestion for a DVD/Blu-ray release of Cinema’s Exiles. I missed the original TV airing and would love to see this documentary.

  • Joseph M. Quinn

    Extraordinary documentation. Parallel to the “Cinema’s Exiles” was the academic exiles during the 1930s and 1940s (and later the Hollywood Blacklist)to Mexico City where many ended up teaching at Mexico City College (1940-1962). Because of this pool of extraordinary international faculty, this small college produced more U.S. professors than any college of comparable size. (

  • Merrill Hatlen

    Since so many historical documentaries focus on superstars, it’s refreshing to that Karen Thomas and Margaret Smilow have produced work on lesser known individuals. Is there a way I can contact Ms. Smilow at WNET about a project I’m working on about the composer, Walter Piston. In some quarters he’s considered a Harvard square, but he was a kind of ironman: composer, teacher and scholar; and the man who wrote the book on Harmony. Thank you.

    Merrill Hatlen

  • Yung Vanaman

    Your idea really interesting, somehow changed my original thoughts

  • Cristina Crass

    nice comment, actually i think the comment here more interesting than the article itself.

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