Editing film for director Martin Scorsese is the greatest job in the world, according to Thelma Schoonmaker.

Schoonmaker, who has worked with the acclaimed director for more than 40 years, has won three Academy Awards for best editing and has been nominated seven times.
On July 17, she will get yet another award.

Schoonmaker, 72, will be presented the Mid-Life Achievement Award at the Maine International Film Festival, at 6:30 p.m. in the Waterville Opera House.

She said she is touched to have been chosen.

“I have the best job in the world and any award I get is the icing on the cake,” she said. “I’m so lucky. I’m so terribly lucky and I’m so grateful to Scorsese for the work he has given me.”

Schoonmaker, whose editing credits include “Raging Bull,” “The Color of Money” and “Gangs of New York,” spoke by phone Friday from a hotel in Beverly Hills after returning from Europe earlier in the week.

The 1990 Scorsese film “Goodfellas,” which she edited, will be shown July 17 at the Opera House.
The festival also will present “Kundun,” Scorsese’s film about the 14th Dalai Lama, and “The Edge of the World,” a film directed by Schoonmaker’s late husband, British director Michael Powell.

She and Powell were married from 1984 until his death in 1990. Scorsese introduced the pair, and they were together three years before they wed.

Since Powell’s death, Schoonmaker has been working to preserve his films, diaries, posters, scripts and papers to honor his legacy.

“That’s a great legacy he gave to me and it keeps me very busy and continually thinking about him,” she said. “I’m reading his diaries now and to be hearing his voice in my head is just wonderful.”

Schoonmaker was born in Algeria to American parents and lived in Aruba before moving to the U.S. when she was a teenager. She dreamed of being a diplomat, and studied political science and Russian at Cornell University, graduating in 1961.

She saw an advertisement in The New York Times for an assistant film editor, got the job and worked for an editor she said butchered classic films. Later, she took the skills she learned there to New York University, where she enrolled in a six-week class in filmmaking.

It was there that she met Scorsese, who was having trouble with a 10-minute film he was making, because an editor had cut the negatives incorrectly, Schoonmaker said. The professor asked if anyone knew how to help Scorsese.

“I said, ‘Yes, maybe I can help him,’” Schoonmaker recalled. “I went over. He had been up three days working on his film. We sort of re-cut the film together.”

After that, she and Scorsese parted, but they would work together again.

“That’s how things began,” Schoonmaker said. “It was all accidental.”

She said she knew nothing about editing when she first started working with Scorsese.

“He taught me everything I’ve ever known about it and continues to teach me,” she said.

Working with Scorsese is exciting, she said, because he thinks like an editor, from a film’s conception, to the camera design work and into the editing process, when he works with her on the second cut, she said.

“I’m working with someone who thinks like an editor all the time. That is just a dream.”

Editing has certainly changed during the years Schoonmaker has worked in the industry. At first, she was very reluctant to make the change to digital editing, but after she received training, she jumped right in and was fine, she said.

“I find I experiment a lot more than I ever did with film,” she said. “It’s been a big change for the better, but it doesn’t change the art of editing.”

Schoonmaker’s most recent Academy Award nomination was for editing “Hugo,” a Scorsese film about a young boy who lives alone in a Paris train station and meets up with a great, forgotten filmmaker.

“It was such a joy to work on and see young children respond to silent films,” she said. “It was just incredible and we didn’t expect that.”

Schoonmaker, who usually works until 11 p.m. seven days a week, said this is the first time in more than 25 years that she has had more than two weeks off.

She relishes having the time to work on Powell’s archives, spend time at his cottage in England and come to Waterville to the film festival.

“It’s been a blessed time for me,” she said.

So much of her life continues to revolve around her late husband who, in a conversation toward the end of his life, supported her love of New England.

“I said to him, ‘I’ll retire to New England with a cat,’ and he said, ‘I would like that very much.’”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder can be reached at 861-9247 or at:

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