Pola Miller, an award-winning filmmaker and documentarian who also served on the boards of Women in Film and the American Film Institute Associates, died February 8 in Los Angeles. She was 86.
At the company she launched, PolaCo Prods., she made many well-regarded documentaries, including “Fairy Tales for Adults Only,” about the sexual themes lurking beneath seemingly innocent fairy tales; “Sleep From A to Zzzz,” a TV special that focused on dreams, drugs and sleep problems; and “Backstage at the Zoo,” a 12-part Family Channel series centered on saving endangered animals and the work done by zoologists in researching animal behavior.
She was honored by the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts for “A Special Kind of Vision,” screened as part of her PBS series “Winners.”
At the same time, she was an invaluable collaborator for her husband Robert Ellis Miller, a television director who eventually moved into film. (They met when she, as a student at Boston’s Emerson College, auditioned for his production of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” staged while Robert was president of the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club.)
In the early 1970s the couple lived in London, where Miller became the host of the Thames Television show “Americans Abroad,” shot on location in various European capitals. When they returned, they moved to Los Angeles, where Robert Ellis Miller moved into film. Pola collaborated with him on pictures including 1968’s “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”; 1970’s “The Buttercup Chain”; and 1983’s “Reuben, Reuben.” She recalled the experience of attending Cannes with “Buttercup Chain” (a competition entry) as one of the highlights of her life.
Miller founded and hosted annual screenings of foreign films for the AFI Associates through its Foreign Film Society, working with international filmmakers whose pictures often went on to be Oscar-nominated and even win the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Miller also was widely recognized for her work with Women in Film, whose International Summit Committee she founded.
Miller was born Pola Chasman in New York City. Both her parents taught English at the University of Maine — her father as a professor.
After graduating from Emerson College in 1950, Miller moved back to New York and became a freelance journalist, writing for publications including the New York Times and the Village Voice. She also hosted radio show “The Spoken Word,” about poets and poetry, which aired on classical music station WQXR.
She is survived by her husband, along with her brother. A memorial service is currently being planned.