A feature-length documentary, which included an interview with Western Illinois University Film Professor Richard Ness, was recently awarded a Mid-America Emmy.

“Jean Seberg: Actress • Activist • Icon” was produced by Garry McGee, of McMarr, Ltd., who is one of Ness’ former students, as well as Kelly and Tammy Rundle, previous Emmy winners from Fourth Wall Films.

The Mid-America Emmy was awarded in the Historical Documentary category. Ness was interviewed as part of the film, and also served as the film historian on the project.

Documentary Featuring Interview with Western Illinois Film Professor Wins Mid-America Emmy

At age 17, Seberg, an Iowa native, was chosen from 18,000 aspiring actresses worldwide to perform in Otto Preminger’s 1957 “Saint Joan,” and starred in Hollywood films “Lilith” with Warren Beatty, “Paint Your Wagon” with Clint Eastwood, and the blockbuster “Airport” with Burt Lancaster. She is best known for her performance in “Breathless.”

Seberg’s offscreen civil rights activism, and her financial support for a program by the Black Panther Party to feed homeless children, made her a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO, and their plan to “neutralize” her initiated a downward spiral, leading to her mysterious and untimely death in Paris.

While McGee was one of Ness’ students, he was able to get significant interviews with Seberg’s friends and family in Iowa, some of whom are no longer living.

“We feel the Emmy win for ‘Jean Seberg’ affirms the amazing life and enduring legacy of Jean, an Iowa daughter, a caring humanitarian, and an American and international movie star,” said Kelly Rundle.

Documentary Featuring Interview with Western Illinois Film Professor Wins Mid-America Emmy

Kelly and Tammy Rundle are Moline-based filmmakers who own Fourth Wall Films.

McGee said he became interested in Seberg while he was a student at Iowa State University and was enrolled in one of the many film classes he took from Ness there.

“His introduction to the film ‘Breathless’ was a whirlwind of information, not only about the work, but also about the film’s leading actress Jean Seberg,” said McGee. “I recall he ended the overview by noting how odd it was to see Seberg in this small, French film, and then, 10 years later, she was starring in the big budget Hollywood musical ‘Paint Your Wagon.’ That was enough to pique my curiosity, as Jean Seberg wasn’t exactly a household name to my generation. My partners, Kelly and Tammy Rundle, asked who we could get for the important role of film historian, and someone who knew Jean’s work well, The first person I thought of was critic Andrew Sarris, but I knew he was unwell, and unable to be involved. A split second later, I suggested Dr. Rich Ness. He was contacted, agreed, and the rest is history.”

Ness said the best part of being a teacher is “seeing your students take what they learned from your classes and go on to do great things.”

“In addition to the film, he has written three books on Jean, and his commitment to telling Jean Seberg’s story has been amazing,” Ness continued. “The Emmy award is well-deserved recognition for the hard work that Garry, Kelly and Tammy have done on this documentary, which seems especially timely today and significant today.”


The documentary features never-before-seen private photographs, and home movie footage. It is the first documentary film to focus on the private side of the international movie star, combining exclusive interviews with Jean’s family, including her sister, Mary Ann Seberg, and former husband, François Moreuil; co-star Mylene Demongeot, director Nicolas Gessner, former Black Panther Party leader and Jean’s friend Elaine Brown; and Ness as film historian.

“Rich was always a supporter of the documentary, long before his on-screen appearance, and long after its completion,” said McGee. “He witnessed the struggles in moving forward with the work, and all that it entailed with post-production editing, fundraising and finding distribution for the film. But Rich was among the small group of supporters who was with us throughout the entire process, and we are forever grateful.”

“Jean Seberg: Actress • Activist • Icon” was funded in part with grants from Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Iowa Arts Council.

Ness said he will continue to add to Jean Seberg’s legacy, as he has just committed to co-editing an anthology on the actress with Dr. Alisia Grace Chase, of SUNY Brockport. The anthology grew out of a panel Ness chaired on Seberg at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in 2021.

For more information about the film, visit JeanSebergMovie.com.

Documentary Featuring Interview with Western Illinois Film Professor Wins Mid-America Emmy
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.
Documentary Featuring Interview with Western Illinois Film Professor Wins Mid-America Emmy

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