(Ross McElwee, USA, 1978) 59 minutes


Producer/Photography/Editor/Sound: Ross McElwee
Charleen Swansea

Reviews and notes

No-one who has seen Sherman's March forgets McElwee's straight-talking friend Charleen; she has the gusto of the life force itself, with McElwee a twig in her breeze. His second film takes in a month of her action-packed life.
- Bill Gosden, 23rd Wellington Film Festival, 1994.

Charleen, an hour-long verite portrait of a poetry teacher in North Carolina... is about Charleen Swansea, a dynamo of a woman in her early 40's. In a classroom of mostly black children, she talks ebulliently about the expressing of feelings. Selecting one slightly embarrassed, definitely awed boy to join her at the front of the room, she fantasizes about failing in love with him, telling him rather vividly how he smells and feels. The rest of the class giggles a lot, but there's no doubt that they get the point of the lesson.

In her private life, Charleen is divorced with two teenaged children and has been 'living together on and off' with Jim, a poet who is 14 years her junior. Following Charleen around town for about a month, Mr McElwee succeeds in capturing the complexity of the woman. On the surface, she is strong, cheerful and determined. But, especially when her relationship with Jim begins disintegrating, she is also seriously troubled, conceding that she has reached 'that point where your age is aesthetically relevant.' When we leave the woman who has corresponded with such literary figures as Ezra Pound, she is wearing bandages around her wrists. But she is still sure that she is going to learn something about herself, and she adds with a wink and a laugh, 'I'm gonna love it!' Charleen is an irresistible force, caught beautifully on the run.
- John J O'Connor, NY Times, 26 April 1981.

Charleen is a great presence for the camera, as vibrant, volatile and downright sexy as one of Renoir's boating party guests.
- Kate Regan, San Francisco Chronicle, 18 August 1988.

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