Jerome Hill began experimenting with filmmaking when still a young adult. While his father was involved with some of the first film companies in the United States, as part of his effort to publicize the Glacier National Park tourism trade, Jerome waited until he was out of college to begin his film work.
After making some experimental movies in the 1930s, including "La Cartomancienne," Hill set about documenting the recent developments in skiing,
highlighting the techniques that European instructors were bringing to American resorts. The resulting film, "Snow Flight," entered national release as a short, preceding feature films. Otto Lang and Hannes Schneider assisted Hill on the film, which was distributed (under varying titles) by Warner Brothers.
With that success, Hill took on filmmaking as his main profession. He made his second documentary feature in 1940, "The Seeing Eye," about the efforts of groups training dogs for the blind. While in the Army, he scripted and filmed two training films, "Chow Hound" and "Poison Ivy."
After leaving the Army in 1944, Hill started again on documentary work. His first postwar project was "Grandma Moses," a documentary on the famed painter, which utilized unusual camera effects and the narration of Archibald MacLeish. The 1950 film attracted a great deal of attention, and Hill was able to follow this up with his documentary masterpiece, "Albert Schweitzer." This film, which gained much of its quality from a close partnership between Hill, its director, and Erica Anderson, head cinematographer and camerawoman, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1957.
Looking for a project after the success of "Albert Schweitzer," Hill was drawn to Carl Jung. Hill had been fascinated by Jung's theories of the subconscious mind, to which he was introduced by his cousin, Maud Oakes. Hill and Oakes had already done some preliminary work on a Jung documentary prior to 1957, but Hill soon decided to convey Jung's ideas through other means.
The resulting film, "The Sand Castle," represented Jungian themes through the allegory of a boy who builds a sand castle at the beach. The sand castle, which draws the attention of a varied collection of eccentric beachgoers, also serves as the setting for an elaborate stop-motion animation dream sequence near the end of the film. The film represented a new direction for Jerome, as he would largely leave the documentary arena for a more experimental, personal style to his films.
Hill's next film was "Open the Door and See All the People," based on an unpublished novel by Jerome entitled "Peacock Feathers." The film was an ensemble piece, focusing on the relationship between two aging sisters. As in "The Sand Castle," Hill touched on the creative process, eccentricity, the role of the parent, and the social order. The film shows the influence of European cinema, particularly in the tone of its farce and its character development.
Throughout the sixties and seventies, Hill produced several short films, many using experimental processes or methods. Several of these films were collected and edited together with unreleased footage in Hill's final movie, "Film Portrait." As its title suggests, the film is a personal memoir told through the films that Hill created over nearly fifty years.
While none of Hill's post-1957 films enjoyed the broad appeal and critical recognition that "Albert Schweitzer" did, they are a greater legacy. They are successful as much for the experimentation and freedom they exhibit, as for the insight they provide on Hill himself.