Documentarian Pola Miller Dies at 86

Robert Ellis Miller Pola Miller 2003 - P 2015
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Robert Ellis Miller Pola Miller 2003 - P 2015

The wife of 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' director Robert Ellis Miller served on the boards of Women in Film and the American Film Institute Associates.

Pola Miller, an award-winning filmmaker and documentarian who served on the boards of Women in Film and the American Film Institute Associates, died Feb. 8 in Los Angeles. She was 86.

Miller was born Pola Chasman in 1928 in New York City. Both her parents taught English at the University of Maine — her father as a professor — and they later ran a school for continuing education in New York.
After graduating from Emerson College in 1950, Miller moved back to New York and became a freelance journalist, writing for such publications as The New York Times and Village Voice. She also hosted The Spoken Word, a radio show about poets and poetry that aired on classical music station WQXR.
In 1955, she married television director Robert Ellis Miller, whom she had met as a student when she auditioned for his production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, staged while he was president of the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club. He survives her.
In the early 1970s, the couple moved to London, where Miller became the host of a Thames Television show, Americans Abroad, shot on location in various European capitals. A few years later, she and her husband returned to the U.S. This time, they were based in Los Angeles, where Robert moved from television into film.
Miller remained his valued collaborator on such pictures as The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968), The Buttercup Chain (1970) and Reuben, Reuben (1983). She recalled the experience of attending Cannes with Buttercup Chain (a competition entry) as one of the highlights of her life.
At the same time, Miller launched her own company, PolaCo Productions, through which she made many well-regarded documentaries, including Fairy Tales for Adults Only, about the sexual themes lurking beneath seemingly innocent fairy tales; Sleep From A to Zzzz, a TV special that focused on dreams, drugs and sleep problems; and Backstage at the Zoo, a 12-part Family Channel series centered on saving endangered animals and the work done by zoologists in researching animal behavior.
She was honored by the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts for A Special Kind of Vision, screened as part of her PBS series, Winners.
Miller was especially proud of her efforts on behalf of others in the film industry. She founded and hosted annual screenings of foreign films for the AFI Associates through its Foreign Film Society, working with international filmmakers whose pictures often went on to earn Oscar nominations and Academy Awards. She was widely recognized for her work with Women in Film, whose International Summit Committee she founded.
She also is survived by her brother, physicist Chellis Chasman. A memorial service is being planned.