The Florestine Collection
One wet Mardi Gras morning in 2001, Columbia, SC native Helen Hill stumbled upon more than 100 handmade dresses on the curb of a New Orleans street. This chance encounter sent her down a path to track down their owner, and launched what would be her last film.
Tragically, Helen died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which left not only destruction but rising violence in its wake. She was in the middle of production on The Florestine Collection when she was killed during a home invasion that also left her husband, Paul Gailiunas, injured. In her honor, Paul completed the film, attributing Helen with saving his life even as he mourns hers.
The Florestine Collection begins with Helen's discovery of the dresses, which fit her in more ways than one. She said that the clothes “were quirky and lovely, just my style.” Through notes and church bulletins left in the dress pockets, Helen learned their owner was Florestine Kinchens. Unfortunately, Florestine had recently died and with no known family, her landlord had tossed her belongings out of the house. As church members describe Florestine as a woman with a “zest for life,” Paul draws parallels to Helen’s own vivacious personality using footage of her playing with their baby son, Francis Pop.
Through Helen's trademark silhouetted cut-out puppet animation and restored flood-damaged home movies, the half-hour film then backtracks to chronicle Helen and Paul's life together, as they begin their family and establish themselves in New Orleans, the discovery of the dresses, through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and then Helen's shocking murder.
Somehow balancing between light-hearted and heartbreaking, The Florestine Collection features songs written and performed by Paul, including two in which he is accompanied by Helen. He also narrates the film, which remains unquestionably a celebration of her spirit.
Following the special presentation, ETV will also air several of Helen's other films, including:
- Tunnel of Love
- Madame Winger Makes a Film
Still images from The Florestine Collection: