Nancy Kelly is a self-taught filmmaker. As a public health educator, she was hired to produce five short dramas about how to drink responsibly. Having fallen in love with filmmaking, she quit her job and moved to the high desert on the California/Nevada border. Though she had never ridden a horse or made a documentary, she learned to do both, making her living as a ranch hand while she shot A COWHAND’S SONG and COWGIRLS. Both films won awards. Kelly discovered Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s novel THOUSAND PIECES OF GOLD while touring with COWGIRLS, and immediately saw it as a narrative feature. She and Kenji Yamamoto, her husband and filmmaking partner, spent six years financing the film with support from the Sundance Institute, “American Playhouse” Theatrical Films, Film Four International and private investors. THOUSAND PIECES OF GOLD starred Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper and after premiering at the San Francisco International Film Festival, screened at film festivals nationally and internationally. It was then released theatrically in the top twenty-five U.S. markets and aired on the PBS “American Playhouse” series. Kino Lorber is releasing the stunning new 4K digital restoration, which premiered at the 2019 Mill Valley Film Festival.
Kelly made a number of documentaries, including REBELS WITH A CAUSE, narrated by Academy Award-winning actress, Frances McDormand. REBELS is about a hard-fought campaign to create a national park near a big city and illustrates that the personal is political and the local is global. She wrote, directed and produced a documentary trilogy about the transformative power of art. TRUST: SECOND ACTS IN YOUNG LIVES won the Jury Award at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival and the Youth Vision Award from the United Nations Association Film Festival, and aired on the “America ReFramed” series. SMITTEN aired as a PBS Primetime Special and won the Audience Award from the Aspen Shortsfest. DOWNSIDE UP aired on the PBS “Independent Lens” series and internationally on the ITVS series “True Stories: Life In The USA.”
Kelly’s work has been supported by the Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, ITVS, National Endowment for the Arts and California Humanities. She was a fellow in the Bay Area Video Coalition MediaMaker program and has won artist-in-residence fellowships at Yaddo, UCross, the MacDowell Colony and the Banff Center for the Arts.