Devin Orgeron and Melissa Dollman at the Deserted Films' Holiday Oddities event.

Mitchell, S.D., home of the famed Corn Palace, is the birthplace of Palm Springs resident and film archivist Melissa Dollman.

Mom was 22, and Dad was 18 when Melissa arrived. As often happens with young parents, their relationship did not last. Mom remarried, and that’s the man Dollman calls Dad.

Dad was a trucker, and the family skipped around South Dakota a lot before state-hopping, in order: California, Indiana, Tennessee, back to Indiana, Iowa, then San Diego, and back to Orange County for junior and senior year. Dollman attended 13 different schools.

Biologically, Dollman is Austro-Hungarian on her bio-dad’s side; Mom is Bohemian and Indigenous American. I ask about percentages, and Dollman patiently explains that’s a white-people thing; Indigenous Americans find that rude. Their Nativeness is defined by involvement within the tribe, not percentages. So don’t ask about that.

Dollman has that knowledge not necessarily because she was told as a child (Dollman tells me she is “of the diaspora”), but because she is involved in Tribesourcing Southwest Film, a collection of nearly 500 films in the American Indian Film Gallery housed at the University of Arizona. Native Americans watch them and provide content narratives.

Some films, made by white people, show sacred ceremonies that are not for non-Native eyes, because as history and my questions prove, we don’t have any boundaries. Those films are removed.

Dollman played clarinet, the instrument responsible for her mother’s scholarship, and while she made second chair, she chose art when it came to selecting a high school elective. The rest of her classes were college prep, history, French and German.

She blew off the SATs for a six-week romp in Europe, after which she returned home, packed up and moved to Nebraska—which seems like an odd choice after Europe—to live with her cousin. But the cost of living was cheap, and at 16, she’d enjoyed a summer there with her cousin. Working at Target paid their bills with party money to spare.

She answered an ad for Citizen Action, and environmental organizations became Dollman’s jam. Clean Water Action in Colorado was her next adventure before she moved to Fresno.

“We actually passed some rad legislation in Nebraska, Colorado. … We did amazing things,” she says with quiet satisfaction.

She considered living in Europe, but instead moved to San Francisco for another position with Clean Water Action. It was there that grassroots gave way to more permanent roots.

“I quit canvassing so that I could go back to school. You would work late, party, get up late, and go to work,” she says. “There was no room for school, so I had to refocus.”

Classes weren’t free; that went away under Reagan’s 1960s governorship. Although community college classes were inexpensive, you needed an income, so Dollman worked at Real Food Company and hit the books. It took a while, but her grades got her a two-year scholarship to UC Berkeley.

She was accepted in art and history. Dollman wanted to narrow it down further to study just American art; they said no. She asked if there was a program at UC Berkeley where she could do that; they told her American studies.

Melissa Dollman.

“You can do just about anything,” she says. “So I continued with art practice, and cultural landscape studies and cultural geography.”

When that chapter was written, she was 30, and bound and determined to put her degree to good use. But her first job …

“I was basically an executive assistant,” she says. No one goes to college to be an executive assistant.

She was with a man she would eventually marry, and they discussed her attending grad school. She wondered: Did her dream job really exist? After endless Googling, she found a program working with films and video called Moving Image Archive Studies. It was real!

UCLA was grueling. She got her master’s degree, but that, combined with her husband’s new 80-hour work week, exposed the cracks in their marriage. Divorced, she moved to Washington, D.C., for a job with Discovery Communications. Just more than a year later, she was working at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library.

While in Massachusetts, she met fellow archivist Devin Orgeron. He was married; she was dating some guy. Later, after his 20-year marriage exploded—it had nothing to do with his and Dollman’s friendship—they eventually discussed their mutual attraction.

Orgeron suggested she move to North Carolina with him, and she did, but finding a job was a struggle. She was told she was overqualified for every job for which she applied. Dollman considered her options. In graduate school, they’ll pay you to teach, she thought. They’d pay me to do research … and I’ll come out the other end with a doctorate.

Melissa Dollman and her husband purchased a midcentury-modern home and filled it with like-minded, tasteful, fun ephemera. And their pet bunny.

In 2021, Dollman received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in American studies with a focus on film/media/PR, women’s studies and digital humanities.

She and Devin were now married, and they decided to move back to California. He’d spent a great deal of his childhood in Palm Springs and loved it. Dollman, an avid vintage shopper, loved the retro vibe, too. They purchased a midcentury-modern home and filled it with like-minded, tasteful, fun ephemera. And their pet bunny.

They created Deserted Films, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Palm Springs history through home movies. The couple recently hosted a screening of Coachella Valley-specific ephemera, Holiday Oddities, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, selling more than 90 tickets.

An in-demand speaker, Dollman is also working on a future iteration of her dissertation, Changing Lanes: A Reanimation of Shell Oil’s Carol Lane, about the first living trademark. (Lane was like Betty Crocker, but for the modern, motoring girl.)

What we want to be when we grow up rarely remains the same. Dollman aspired to be a teacher, then an interpreter, then she didn’t know—so she lived out loud until she learned about what she could not be taught: Herself.

Her story involves her grandfather being disowned for marrying a Native American. Despite centuries-long, small-minded prejudice and humble beginnings, Dollman painted her own landscape and created a future out of preserving the past. That’s pretty badass if you ask me.

Learn more at

Avatar photo

Kay Kudukis

Kay Kudukis is a former lead singer in a disco cover band who then became a Gaslight girl, then an actress, and then the author of two produced and wildly unacclaimed plays—as well as one likely unseen...