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‘Somebody to look to’: UC Berkeley graduate student Elizabeth Bird dies at age 54

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UC Berkeley graduate student Elizabeth Bird died March 28 at the age of 54. According to Bird's wife, Betti-Sue Hertz, Bird was a lifelong learner with a passion for filmmaking.


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APRIL 23, 2021

Filmmaker and UC Berkeley graduate student Elizabeth Bird, remembered by those who knew her for her spark and dedication to her craft, died March 28 at the age of 54.

Also known as Beth, Bird came to UC Berkeley to pursue her doctorate in the film and media department, according to her wife Betti-Sue Hertz, although she was already an established filmmaker in her own right.

Describing Bird as a lifelong learner, Hertz noted the doggedness of Bird’s work and her passion for filmmaking, which explored the complex ways power intersects with ordinary people’s lives.

“Beth as a scholar, academic and curious person (wanted) to push beyond what she already knew,” Hertz said.

Her 2005 feature-length documentary “Everyone Their Grain of Sand” won several awards, among them a jury award for best documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It also made rounds across the global film festival circuit, reaching locales including Vienna and Berlin.

Bird’s filmmaking was as dynamic as she was, according to Hertz, who said her wife’s interests were always evolving. In her later years, Bird’s work shifted toward surveillance studies.

Remembering a trip to a family summerhouse in Vermont, Hertz recalled the tenacity of Bird’s academia.

“I have a photograph of her sitting on the screened-in porch, writing a paper,” Hertz said. “She didn’t leave that porch hardly at all for two weeks, because she was just immersed in the questions at hand.”

Campus film and media associate professor Jeffrey Skoller also remembered Bird’s intellectual enthusiasm, both as a student and GSI.

As an instructor, Skoller emphasized Bird’s sense of responsibility toward her undergraduate students, whom she enjoyed supporting and working with.

Skoller also recalled Bird’s filmmaking experience, which deeply enriched the department even as it differentiated her from other campus film and media scholars.

Throughout her time at UC Berkeley, Bird served as a creative and intellectual inspiration to those around her, Skoller added.

“Everything that she did, she approached full bore,” Skoller said. “Everybody noticed her and everyone found her to be somebody to look to as a model for creative and intellectual exploration.”

Looking back on his time with Bird, Skoller said he will most fondly recall their memories teaching together. He also noted her commitment as a mother.

As Hertz reflected on her wife’s legacy, she said one particular word resounds throughout all of the tributes from those who knew her.

“The word that everyone uses is ‘fierce,’ ” Hertz said. “Beth was fierce.”

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.

APRIL 23, 2021