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Kim Norwood: Of Love and Filmmaking
by Doniphan Blair
Kim Norwood with wife Patti and daughter Peggy, who is thinking of following him into film. photo: courtesy Norwood Family
Kim Norwood enjoyed life - emotionally, as an adventure, and professionally
Kim Christopher Norwood wasn't a famous filmmaker but he was a dedicated member of the Bay Area and SoCal production communities, a "hopeless wanderer, adventurer, and kind of a student of life," according to his wife Patti, and a great husband and father. Indeed, "He raised his stepdaughter, Peggy J. Seale Acuña, since she was three, as if she were his own." If he hadn't died at the end of last year from pancreatic cancer, Norwood would be turning 59 this July.
"Although I adored my father, Kim was my favorite human being ever," Patti said. "He was a man who could look at the same tree for ten years and still be in awe of its beauty. I can describe Kim's personality best by telling you that he said, 'There are no strangers, only friends we haven't met.' Those were the most beautiful words I had ever heard.'
Born in Los Angeles, Norwood attended high school in Burbank, starting at California State University (CSU), Chico, for his BA in cultural anthropology/video ethnography (sounds like fun!) while still in high school. A believer in lifelong education, he received a degree in broadcasting electronics at CSU LA, and thirty years later, a Web and digital media streaming technologies certificate at SFU.
Like Les Blank, who made a film about Leon Russell in the '70s and whom Norwood must have known, he got involved with the colorful pianist/songwriter - in Norwood's case, designing and constructing Russell's mobile "Paradise Studios:" two converted Winnebago motor homes, one for sound recording, the other for video recording. Although Norwood enjoyed the artistic life and his parents became regular hippies in Berkeley, he went straight in the '80s, joining KABC CH-7 in Hollywood as a broadcast tech supervisor and editor - but not for long.
He soon lit out for the territories, the South Pacific, where he worked for ABC National News. But in 1988, he reversed direction: the Winter Olympics in Calgary (for which he received an Emmy for technical achievement in sound). Indeed, there were to be four Academy Awards shows (working camera and sound), three Presidential elections, two Space Shuttle launches, and back to the South Seas for the king of Tonga's birthday.
But it wasn't all tropics, sports and celebrities. Norwood was also in Desert Storm, the Falklands War, Honduras during the Contra era, Alaska during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and Tian'anmen Square. In fact, he was detained by the police when he was caught filming, but Norwood turned the tables.
"As the Chinese were preparing to invade the square, they cut our lines to the satellite up links," Norwood wrote. "Our only way to get tape out entailed going to the Beijing airport and talking tourists into smuggling tapes back to Hong Kong. This was risky for the tourist and not a reliable way to operate. Solution: Because I enjoy new technology, and go out of my way to attend classes, participate in professional societies, read trade magazines, etc., I knew that Sony was working on a system called Mavica that allowed you to take still pictures in a digital format and transmit the data by phone lines. I called their offices in Japan and worked out a deal. One of the prototypes would be sent to Hong Kong and I would then bring it to Beijing as baggage. I was registered as a tennis pro on my visa so as to not arouse suspicion. The latter would prove to be a mistake. I was arrested, interrogated in the Forbidden City and accused of being a spy, but that is another story. The system proved to be a success, and ABC was the only network to get pictures out taken that day or hours earlier. Kudos from the suits!"
Norwood ran his own company, ImageSight (1994 on), doing camera, sound and editing. He made various docs, like "Shared Living Communities," which covered his father Ken, an architect who was shot down over Germany and survived as a P.O.W., founded the Shared Resource Living Center and wrote a book on co-housing. His mother, from an old California family, is also still alive, as are his sisters, Nancy Mauter and Coleen McLaughlin.
Kim did the "Chronic Pain Educational Series" with Richmond producer Charalambos Kesta, a piece on Berkeley Youth Arts, and various promos for Yellow Cab Training and the California Culinary Academy. He was completing the latter last year when he became too ill to work. It all came tragically quickly, and twenty-four days after being diagnosed, he died on December 20 at UCSF Medical Center. He was already enjoying borrowed time, having battled hairy cell leukemia since 1984, when he was told he would be dead in six months because there was little research or help available. But he participated in the first Alpha Interferon drug trials at UC Irvine which, along with his lust for life and even temper, saved him. Unfortunately, the drug's side effects left him in chronic pain for the rest of his life.
But as one filmmaker passes, the next takes up the lens. Stepdaughter Peggy just finished her first year at Santa Monica College, which she selected specifically with Norwood's guidance. Although she had wanted to be an Egyptologist, "She is Kim's girl," noted wife Patti. "She very much wants to be a filmmaker. She's already a damn fine photographer. She's got a good eye. Kim taught her well."
Posted on Aug 13, 2010 - 01:45 PM