Nell Cox, the writer, producer, and director of Liza's Pioneer Diary (LPD), had a vision to make a film honoring 19th Century Kentucky women. Through her historical research, Ms. Cox created a realistic heroine who portrayed a pioneer woman in the unconventional setting of a popular western film; a genre that before this time employed women as little more than props. In fact, LPD was one of the first and only westerns shown from a woman's point of view. The heroine, Liza Stedman, begins her journey in Kentucky as the dependent and obedient young wife of her controlling husband. Through her experiences on the Oregon Trail, she faces adversities to realize her own inner strengths and personal needs. Cox also created supporting characters of independently-willed women to illustrate the fact that these women have always existed, though history often leads us to believe that they did not. As stated to us by Nell Cox, the actresses in the film said "they were transformed by playing these roles." In addition, Cox said "the mail that KCET received, especially compared to the other 38 shows in the [Visions] series, was voluminous from women who were touched by seeing a woman's story."
The film was shot in 1976 in New Mexico, with a budget of $200,000. LPD was one of the first dramatic films to be shot in a cinéma vérité style, using hand held cameras and natural light. Michael Kamen, who is now an award-winning, top composer in Hollywood, wrote the musical score. This wagon train western was nominated by the Television Critic's Award for Best Achievement in Writing and won a Christopher Award.
LPD is 87 minutes in length and is on acetate film. A collection inspection and condition listing was made in 1998. The LPD materials are presently located in a 6,975 square foot, environmentally stable storage vault on the UK campus, which meets preservation standards for archival storage. A security system and fire suppression system protects the storage facility's contents.
The UK's Special Collections owns the only surviving 16mm print of LPD. The immediate preservation of this print was critical. The film suffered from advanced deterioration of the film base and considerable color fading. Since the picture's original A and B rolls have been lost, this print needed to be cleaned and rehoused and a new internegative made by retiming and color correcting the original.
In 2001, the University of Kentucky Audio-Visual Archives received funding from the Women's Film Preservation Foundation and the Kentucky Foundation for Women to take the steps necessary to make a new 16 mm negative and print, as well as access copies on video. Restoration work was done at Cineric, Inc. which worked closely with the filmmaker throughout the project.
The preservation and restoration of LPD has saved this unique, feminist work for future education and research into women's issues, Kentucky, and independent filmmaking. Special Collections has viewing copies of the film available for screening and research. A finding aid to the film's materials will be made accessible on the Internet. Special Collections has collaborated with Nell Cox, whose materials from several fiction films and documentaries are stored in the Independent Filmmakers Collection, to organize a public film screening. In addition, the preservation work achieved by this grant and the restored print will showcase the kind of work that should be done with the rest of the Independent Filmmaker productions in the collection and act as a blue print for future projects.