Synopsis: Behind the iconic “We Can Do It” poster girl, millions of real-life women shook the foundations of the American workplace – forever changing both their own lives and the very perception of what women can do. The Girl with the Rivet Gun is based on the adventures of three of these real-life “Rosie the Riveters”. Made entirely by women filmmakers, the film uses the playful, handmade cardboard animation of Helen Hill Award-winning animator Danielle Ash combined with intimate live interview footage of Rosies – now in their 80’s and 90’s – along with archival photographs, radio broadcasts, music, and iconic wartime posters/propaganda of women workers.
Focusing on three women from vastly different backgrounds – Esther Horne, Susan Taylor King and Mildred Crow Sargent – plus a surprise visit from Eleanor Roosevelt herself – The Girl with the Rivet Gun is set in an America united by war but struggling with divisions of gender, economics and race.
The film weaves together powerful moments from each of these Rosie’s journeys of transformation – for Esther, a factory community that she loved was lost when she fought for equal pay. For Susan, when the factory doors were opened to Black women workers, learning to rivet meant earning more money than anyone else in her family. For Mildred, becoming a Rosie meant travel ‘up North’ – where she discovered Yankees weren’t so bad after all – and she got the chance to do her part for the war by making Hell Diver bombers – one rivet at a time.
These unexpected and deeply personal stories of women industrial workers during World War II serve as our entry point to a rich, layered, and adventurous rewriting of history as herstory, providing new understanding of this pivotal time in the transformation of America.
Susan Taylor King
Mildred Crow Sargent
Danielle Ash (Animation Director)
We are deeply grateful to all of the extraordinary women who shared their experiences of being “Rosie” with us for this project.
A native New Yorker, Esther Horne worked a number of “Rosie” defense jobs during WWII including at the Electronic Corporation of America, All Craft Manufacturing Company, New York City and at Gossack’s Machine Shop in Queens. Esther was a member of the United Electrical Workers, Local 1227, and travelled by train to Washington DC with the Labor Management Committee. Her work as a Rosie gave Esther the financial independence both to help her destitute family and also to leave an unhappy marriage. Esther spent much of her life as an educator and a union representative. She also enjoyed performing in theater and storytelling. She still lives in New York City.
Susan Taylor King was born in Kilmarknock, Virginia into a family of six children. Her father earned a dollar a day as a seasonal worker, mainly fishing or working in the fields, and during the depression decided to move his family to Baltimore, Maryland where he hoped to get higher paying work. After graduating High School, Susan trained for work as a riveter at The Defense Training School in the old Chevrolet factory, and in 1942 got a job working at the Eastern Aircraft Company. After the war, Susan used her defense earnings to pay her way through Hampton College. After graduating, marrying her Biology Professor at Hampton, and having two children, she decided to go back to school and study education. She became a counselor in the Baltimore City Public Schools, where she worked for twenty-two years. She still lives in the Baltimore area.
Mildred Crow Sargent grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and moved to Detroit, Michigan at the age of 19 with her husband and young son to work at Woodall Industry where she helped to build the Curtiss Wright Helldiver. She and her “Bucker” partner received a commendation for being the fastest riveters on the line. After World War II, she moved back to Nashville and worked on the B52 at Vultee Aircraft and raised her children. Working as a riveter gave her the means to put herself through college and graduate school. She has published three scholarly books on American History. Mildred passed away in 2013 at the age of 91.
Directors Anne de Mare & Kirsten Kelly are award-winning documentary filmmakers whose feature film together, The Homestretch, received the 2015 Emmy Award for Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting, Long Form. With a national broadcast on PBS’s acclaimed series Independent Lens, a million viewers tuned in to watch the journeys of three homeless high school students living in inner city Chicago as they worked to build a brighter future for themselves. The Homestretch was at the center of a successful two-year Impact Campaign that has been cited as a model campaign by the industry leader GoodPitch. The film screened at over 800 grassroots organizations and schools. It was the foundation for an unprecedented policy event addressing the crisis of youth homelessness in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was the basis for a groundbreaking report from Civic Enterprises on the effect of youth homelessness on the national graduation rate in high schools.
As a filmmaking team, Anne and Kirsten have worked together for more than fifteen years. Their work has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Media and Journalism Grant and supported by Sundance Institute, ITVS, Chicken & Egg Pictures, POV/American Documentary Inc., The Fledgling Fund, BRITDOCS/Bertha Foundation, Michigan Arts Council, Michigan Humanities Council, ArtsEngine and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (among many others). They share a deep commitment to projects that celebrate the transformative power of the human spirit, where the individual experience illuminates the face of society as a whole, as well as projects that explore the human connection to social justice issues. Other significant works include the feature documentary, Asparagus! Stalking The American Life about farmers in rural western Michigan struggling with sustainability in the face of the global economy; and The Real Rosie The Riveter Project, an extensive archive of filmed personal histories of women who worked in the munitions factories of World War II, which is housed in the NYU Bobst Libraries.
Anne recently directed Capturing The Flag, a feature documentary following four volunteer voter protection lawyers in Fayetteville, North Carolina during the 2016 presidential election (world premiere 2018 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, impact campaign supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York), and was Co-Producer on the ITVS documentary Deej (America ReFramed), winner of a 2017 Peabody Award.
Kirsten is currently Senior Producer with Transform Films where she is Director and Producer of the documentary short Stranger/Sister (currently in festivals) and Healing The Healers, a new media resource intended to support clergy, laity, social workers, first responders and other spiritual care providers facing community-level trauma from manmade disasters like mass shootings and religious-inspired hate crimes.
Animation Director Danielle Ash is an experimental filmmaker and stop-motion animation director who works with a variety of methods and materials to create animated art. Scratching imagery onto repurposed 70mm film, creating virtual reality experiences, building miniature puppet theatre installations, and creating the animated cardboard films, Pickles for Nickels, a love story about the disappearing pickle shops of New York City, Bartender’s Tale, a short for Jack Daniel’s whiskey, and learning to count to the number 4, with Counting 4 Wheels for Sesame Street, Danielle’s playful handmade style has reached a wide audience. The Girl with the Rivet Gun is her most recent animation in stop-motion utilizing sets and characters made of cardboard material.
Winner of the Helen Hill Animation Award, she has taught, shown her work and appeared as a visiting artist at The Museum of the Moving Image, College of the Atlantic, The Black Maria Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Brooklyn College and Sarah Lawrence College. Currently teaching 3D Animation Filmmaking in the Digital Arts Department at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.
She studied fine art and avant-garde filmmaking at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received her masters from the Experimental Animation Program at CalArts. Danielle enjoys playing along to old records on her musical saw and is now working in her upstate studio in the woods on her next film about the fate of the Ash trees.