Renowned Hollins Alum Returns for Film Retrospective

George Butler

Known by some as the man who helped put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map more than 30 years ago with “Pumping Iron,” noted documentary filmmaker George Butler is coming home again January 10-12.

Butler, who graduated from the Hollins College creative writing masters program in 1968, returns for the George Butler Film Festival, with showings at both Hollins University and the Grandin Theatre.

Besides “Pumping Iron,” which followed the body-building exploits of a pre-Terminator, pre-Governor Schwarzenegger, the five other Butler films to be shown include his 2006 work “The Good Fight,” which traces the life of recently-retired Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden.

Another work, “Roving Mars,” allows viewers to explore the Martian surface through the eyes of two NASA rovers. “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition,” is a tribute to a band of explorers who endured being locked in that icy environment for almost two years, close to a century ago. Ernest Shackleton “was one of the great leaders of his time,” said Butler.

The explorer “wasn’t on my radar,” until a friend suggested it as a topic, according to Butler. The $12 million dollar film was shot on location in the Antarctic. “I think it’s the biggest documentary film project ever done,” said Butler shortly after its release. He also called Antarctica “the most beautiful place on earth,” as well as “one of the wildest in terms of weather. I can verify that with my film.”

During a previous visit to Hollins, when “The Endurance” was screened, Butler, who went to school there with noted writers Lee Smith and Annie Dillard, talked about how good it was to come back to the valley.

He managed to slip in a little trout fishing and reminisced about a defunct restaurant where he used to eat breakfast while studying at Hollins. “Now it’s gone” he lamented. He also noticed how the apple orchards had been replaced by housing developments near the north Roanoke County university. “[But] I’m delighted to be back.”

After Hollins, Butler received a draft deferment and wound up in Detroit, where he worked in the inner city, at the same time befriending Motown giants like Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. He became a newspaper publisher in Detroit during the tumultuous late 1960’s, and also collaborated with Senator John Kerry on a book about Vietnam.

Butler then took advantage of an opportunity to take pictures at a bodybuilding show in New England. Shortly after that he met Schwarzenegger. “He was interesting.”  Butler “absolutely” saw the Austrian bodybuilder as a budding movie star, something that happened soon after he filmed “Pumping Iron” – after shooting pictures for a book of the same name.

“In many ways Hollins saved my life,” said Butler, who lost a number of friends in Vietnam. First a photographer and then a filmmaker, Butler’s documentaries are often screened in IMAX theaters.

Butler’s appearance this Sunday through next Tuesday is part of the Hollins 50th anniversary celebration for its creative writing program.

(Visit hollins.edu/calendar for more information.)

By Gene Marrano
[email protected]

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