Sarah Kernochan

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Sarah Kernochan
Sarah Marshall Kernochan

(1947-12-30) December 30, 1947 (age 75)
EducationRosemary Hall
Alma materSarah Lawrence College
Occupation(s)Documentarian, film director, screenwriter, novelist, singer-songwriter
Years active1972–present
SpouseJames Lapine
ChildrenPhoebe Lapine
Parent(s)Adelaide Chatfield-Taylor
John Marshall Kernochan
RelativesWayne Chatfield-Taylor (grandfather)

Hobart Chatfield-Taylor (great-grandfather) Rose Chatfield-Taylor (great-grandmother)

Charles B. Farwell (great-great-grandfather)

Sarah Marshall Kernochan (/ˈkɛərnəˌkɛn/; born December 30, 1947) is an American documentarian, film director, screenwriter and novelist. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including two Academy Awards (Documentary Feature for Marjoe in 1973 and Documentary Short Subject for Thoth in 2002)

Early life[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.[2] Her maternal great-grandparents included writers Hobart Chatfield-Taylor and Anna De Koven. Her great-great-grand father was Illinois Senator and XIT Ranch owner Charles B. Farwell. Her paternal grandfather was composer Marshall Kernochan.

She graduated from Rosemary Hall (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in 1965, where Kernochan was a classmate of Glenn Close,[3] and attended Sarah Lawrence College in 1966.[4]


After Sarah Lawrence, she worked as a ghostwriter for The Village Voice for about a year.[4] After quitting that job, she became interested in documentary film-making 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.[5]

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.[6] She commented in an interview with[6]

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";[6] Sommersby (1993); wrote and directed The Hairy Bird (1998);[7] co-wrote the story for What Lies Beneath (2000);[8] 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. She has taught screenwriting at Emerson College.[9]

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.


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. 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.

Music career[edit]

Sarah is also a singer, lyricist, and composer. During the next two years after the release of Marjoe, she released two albums on RCA Records as a singer-songwriter, House of Pain and Beat Around the Bush.[10]

Kernochan released her third album as a singer-songwriter, "Decades of Demos," in 2013. She also wrote the musical Sleeparound Town, which was a show about puberty and featured five adolescents.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Kernochan is married to American stage director James Lapine, a Pulitzer Prize and three-time Tony Award winner. The couple's daughter is food and health writer Phoebe Lapine.[11]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (9 November 2007). "John M. Kernochan, Copyright Defender, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  3. ^ Rosemary Hall Alumnae Award Archived 2008-05-21 at the Wayback Machine from the Choate Rosemary Hall website
  4. ^ a b Biography from Allmovie
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (25 July 1972). "'Marjoe,' Documentary About Evangelist, Arrives". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Girls school rules, a May 17, 2000 article from
  7. ^ Scott, A.O. (2008). "All I Wanna Do". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  8. ^ Kehr, Dave (25 February 2000). "At the Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  9. ^ a b Bergon, Frank (13 August 2015). "A Visit with Sarah Kernochan". Martha's Vineyard Arts & Ideas. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Kaufman, Joanne (October 21, 2002). "Taking a Chance on Amour - Nymag". New York. Retrieved 6 June 2020.

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