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A documentary about local legend Marion Stokes hits Philly, with an entourage

The documentary 'Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project' chronicles the fascinating life of a Philadelphia woman who obsessively recorded television for decades in her Rittenhouse Square apartment. Director Matt Wolf, along with Stokes friends and family, will answer questions at select screenings

Marion Stokes appearing on TV in "Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project."
Marion Stokes appearing on TV in "Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project."Read moreEileen Emond

Friends and family of the late Marion Stokes will be available to answer questions about the fascinating Philadelphia woman at several local screenings of the new documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, which opens here Nov. 22.

Director Matt Wolf will also be on hand for some Recorder screenings at the Ritz at the Bourse.

Question-and-answer sessions run through Nov. 27 with many of the folks featured in the movie, which examines Stokes’ intriguing history and habits. Wolf will be with them through Nov. 24.

Stokes died in 2012, leaving behind a massive collection of videotape — in 1979 she started recording TV round-the-clock, and kept it up without interruption until her death, resulting in an archive that made international news when discovered.

The collection is now being digitized by the Internet Archive in California and converted into a searchable database of rare and invaluable content.

Stokes kept everything — 70,000 tapes containing one million hours of programming. In preserving the tapes, she was doing something that networks and affiliates often did not do in the age of videotape, because archives cost money.

Money is something Stokes had. For the last 30 years of her life, she was living at a posh Rittenhouse Square address with husband John Stokes, heir to a Philadelphia manufacturing fortune.

Stokes herself grew up in a modest home in Germantown and found work as a librarian — a job she lost when she became interested in Communist Party politics. She became the subject of FBI investigations, leading to her lifelong interest in social justice and informing her critical view of the way mainstream media covers marginalized groups. (A persuasive and canny media critic, she met John Stokes while appearing on a local current-affairs TV show he hosted.)

» READ MORE: This Philadelphia woman recorded three decades of television on 70,000 VHS tapes

This, in turn, fed her interest in recording news broadcasts — she started with coverage of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, which itself helped initiate the 24-hour news cycle. The documentary provides personal and cultural context for Stokes’ passion, which occupied more and more of her life.

She became reclusive, and was sometimes estranged from those close to her. Captivated by content, or captive to it — the film, through Stokes, takes a timely look at the fine line between the two.

On Nov. 22, the 7 p.m. screening will be followed by a Q&A with Wolf and Frank Heilman, Stokes’ personal assistant. Subsequent screenings (4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Nov. 23, 1 p.m. on Nov. 24, and 7 p.m. Nov. 25-27), will be followed by Q&A sessions with Wolf (until Nov. 24) and Stokes’ relatives and associates, including her son, Michael Metelits, and stepdaughters Anne and Elizabeth Stokes.