Born and raised in Oregon, Joanna Priestley began experimenting with animation very early in her life. “One of the first toys I was ever given,” she recalls, “was a zoetrope, which worked on a little turntable and it had little zoetrope strips with it. I loved it! I’m sure I became an animator because of that toy.”
After college, she moved to Paris “to study printmaking with intaglio master Bill Hayter at Atelier 17.” Returning to Oregon, she settled in Sisters, “a little tiny cowboy town in the center of the state, where there was almost nothing to do in the evenings.” With no commercial cinema around, she helped start a film society, which became a huge success.
Working as a film librarian for the Northwest Film Center, in Portland, enabled her to see new work and meet filmmakers like independent animator George Griffin, whose work Priestley “just fell in love with” and who became a big influence. Other animators who have had a great influence include Norman McLaren, Len Lye and Jane Aaron.
“However,” she says, “the one film that’s influenced me the most is La Jetée by Chris Marker, [which consists entirely of still photos]. I saw it in college in 16mm; I was so astounded by it that I insisted I be able to take the film and look at it myself, and was able to look at it four times in a row. At that point, I was supporting myself doing commercial slide shows with three or six projectors. And there’s such an interesting overlap between slide shows and La Jetée and animation, because movement occurs between the dissolves between these still images.”