Sarah Kernochan

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Sarah Kernochan
Sarah Marshall Kernochan

(1947-12-30) December 30, 1947 (age 71)
OccupationDocumentarian, film director, screenwriter, producer, singer-songwriter
Years active1972–present
Spouse(s)James Lapine

Sarah Marshall Kernochan (/ˈkɛərnəˌkɛn/; born December 30, 1947) is an American documentarian, film director, screenwriter and producer.

Life and career[edit]

Kernochan was born in New York City, the daughter of Adelaide (Chatfield-Taylor), a UNESCO consultant, and John Marshall Kernochan, a Columbia Law School professor.[1] Her maternal grandfather was Wayne Chatfield-Taylor, Under Secretary of Commerce and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After graduating in 1965 from Rosemary Hall (now Choate Rosemary Hall), where Kernochan was a classmate of Glenn Close,[2] and in 1968 from Sarah Lawrence College, she worked as a ghostwriter for The Village Voice for about a year.[3] After quitting that job, she became interested in documentary filmmaking and soon gained national prominence in the United States as co-director and co-producer with Howard Smith of the 1972 film Marjoe (about evangelist Marjoe Gortner), which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

During the next two years, she released two albums on RCA Records as a singer-songwriter, House of Pain and Beat Around the Bush.[4]

In 1977, Kernochan's novel Dry Hustle (ISBN 0-688-03149-8 in hard cover, ISBN 0-425-03661-8 in paperback) was published. It was reprinted as an ebook in 2011.

Kernochan's first screen credit as a screenwriter came with the 1986 film 9½ Weeks. She followed that film with the script for Dancers (1987), starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and directed by Herbert Ross, which chronicled the backstage drama of a ballet company (played by American Ballet Theatre dancers) and their director during the staging of the ballet Giselle.

By the time she was brought in to work on the 1993 film Sommersby, she had become known for a particular style of writing in Hollywood.[5] She commented in an interview with[5]

I think people know that there's no point in calling me in if you want the other kind of women characters: a featureless "help me" character, or the saint, the whore — you know, any of the archetypes. I don't think all women are powerful, intelligent, any of those things. I just require that female characters be very real, that they have all the dimensions that the male characters do.

Since then, she has been primarily a screenwriter for such films as Dancers (1987); Impromptu (1991), the debut film directed by her husband James Lapine with a script she characterized as "maybe the best thing that I will ever do";[5] Sommersby (1993); wrote and directed The Hairy Bird (1998);[6] co-wrote the story for What Lies Beneath (2000); and directed Thoth (2002) and wrote Learning to Drive (2014).

Her second documentary, Thoth, also won an Academy Award in 2002, this time for Best Documentary Short Subject.

In June 2011, Kernochan released her first novel in over 35 years entitled Jane Was Here (ISBN 0980037727). A mysterious young woman, calling herself Jane, arrives in the small rundown community of Graynier, Massachusetts. She can point out the house where she grew up, though she has never been to Graynier in her life. Jane carries with her the fragmentary memory of her former life, and refuses to adjust to her new identity. Thus begins Jane's mission, to retrieve the puzzle pieces of a former life, groping her way through the past and the present simultaneously.

Kernochan released her third album as a singer-songwriter, "Decades of Demos," in 2013.

In August 2014, her feature script Learning to Drive, based on a New Yorker story by Katha Pollitt, went before cameras. The film, starring Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson, was released in the US on August 21, 2015.

Kernochan is married to American stage director James Lapine. The couple's daughter is food writer, Phoebe Lapine.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Rosemary Hall Alumnae Award Archived 2008-05-21 at the Wayback Machine from the Choate Rosemary Hall website
  3. ^ Biography from Allmovie
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c Girls school rules, a May 17, 2000 article from
  6. ^ Scott, A.O. "All I Wanna Do". New York Times. Retrieved 10 August 2011.

External links[edit]