Nietzchka Keene

1952 – 2004
Airing The Juniper Tree (1990) on Wednesday, Sep. 23 at 8:45 AM on TCM

One of the great lost talents in film history, Nietzchka Keene died of pancreatic cancer at 52 while still in post-production on her third feature, Barefoot in Jerusalem (2008). When the film was finally completed four years later, its tale of a woman struggling with the devil after her lover’s suicide proved to be a perfect companion piece to her acclaimed first feature, The Juniper Tree (1990). That film is a dream-like adaptation of a Brothers Grimm folk tale, reshaped to examine the place of women in a male-dominated society. Two sisters flee their home when their mother is executed for witchcraft and use her lore to win protection from a widowed farmer. 

After graduating from UCLA, Keene researched the film and wrote the screenplay while visiting Iceland on a Fulbright Fellowship. She then returned to shoot the picture in black and white, in natural locations and museum rooms re-creating medieval Icelandic life. Her cast included a pre-fame Bjork, making her film debut. Through the 1990s, the picture was a popular item at film festivals and in revival screenings. The Juniper Tree was given a restoration and theatrical release in 2018.

Select Filmography

Still (1978)
Hinterland (1981)
The Juniper Tree (1990)
Heroine of Hell (1996)
Barefoot to Jerusalem (2008)