I like to think I’m a person who sees the glass half full. I’ve always been intrigued by obstacles and how a simple mind shift can reveal possibility and the path to success. Oftentimes that mind shift requires creative problem-solving and a willingness to take risks. Isn’t that what Steve Jobs was celebrating when he developed his Think Different Ad?
I didn’t know a lot about documentary filmmaking, until I met Karen Whitehead two years ago, through a mutual friend. As a musician myself, I found Jini Dellaccio‘s story fascinating. As the wife and mother of several visual artists, I found Karen’s talent and commitment inspiring. As a social media strategist and blog writer, I felt compelled to share…
Technology, Social Media and the Democratization of Philanthropy
The rapid development of and increasing access to sophisticated technology in the film production industry, has opened the door to many of the “crazies” that Jobs’ ad speaks about. These creatives are dedicated storytellers who are finding their voice online in greater and greater numbers. Their pieces often have a high production quality, minus the Hollywood budgets. But they are on a mission. Because social media levels the playing field in terms of visibility and accountability, you can find and support projects that have special significance to you. The opportunity to be philanthropists and supporters—at a level that fits any budget—has become democratized.
Her Aim Is True: An Indie Film Project Worthy of Consideration
Being a company whose range of services spans the arts industry, the work of Karen Whitehead stands out as a documentary project worthy of our consideration. I recently had the opportunity to interview Karen and ask more specifically about the story she tells about Jini Dellaccio, a pioneer in the rock photography field and a woman creating innovative album covers “years before Annie Leibovitz picked up a camera!”
Slice: Tell us about your background and journey into documentary filmmaking?
Karen: I started out as a journalist working for a regional newspaper, working on a variety of assignments. As I gained experience, I realized that I enjoyed the research aspect and was drawn to the process of visual storytelling. I decided to pursue jobs in current affairs documentary films. I was very lucky to get hands-on training in producing and directing through several UK-based production companies and ended up producing a variety of programs for UK network television, including the BBC.
After moving to the US, with my American husband, I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to return to my BBC colleagues for commentary, including from the widely respected journalist Charles Wheeler, when I was crafting the film about the history of the Berlin Wall and the role of the media, for the Newseum in Washington DC – the film is on display in the Berlin Wall gallery’s video banks if you want to check it out!
More recently, after crafting several films for non-profits, I realized that I wanted to go back to my roots in journalism. Where I am most challenged and rewarded is by a process of immersing myself in (a) longer documentary form (that) tell(s) stories that may otherwise be unheard or ignored. These “unexpected narratives” are what I love to reveal along with the experience of inhabiting a story. I like not knowing for sure what we will discover in the course of filming, how it might affect us and make us see things differently.
Slice: How has the documentary film industry changed in recent years?
Karen: Combined with the more accessible technological advances in camera and editing technology, many more filmmakers are finding their voice and stories to share, in well-crafted formats; more often than not with high production values, minus the Hollywood budgets.
(S)ocial media tools are vital lifelines to independent filmmakers like me. It is how we connect and find audiences and it is not just about fundraising (which is of course essential in these lean and mean times for the arts) but it is also how we help the film’s story/message exist beyond the actual project.
Slice: I love that idea of participating vicariously in the production of a film even as the project moves forward. What drew you to this story in particular?
Karen: On the surface, I thought I was encountering a photographer (Jini Dellacio) who happened to (be) responsible for a handful of cool live shots in the mid 1960s of The Who, The Rolling Stones and Mitch Ryder to name a few. As I started digging around the Pacific Northwest music scene, I realized I was in the presence of a pioneer in the rock photography field and a woman who was shooting punk before punk had a name. A woman, who was creating innovative album covers posing bands in her backyard and setting up band photo-shoots years before Annie Leibovitz picked up a camera. I had lots of questions but my main one was, how did this elegant woman, a shy farm girl from Indiana, wind up spending her middle age with the likes of godfathers of grunge, (The Wailers and The Sonics) who were producing such gritty, hard core punkish sounds with songs like “Strychnine“, “Psycho“, and “The Witch?”
More recently, Jini has gained some recognition for her artistry. Last year Graham Nash chose Jini’s remarkable still of Neil Young for his Taking Aim exhibition. The photo was created during a little known shoot she did at his Laurel Canyon home in 1967 where she persuaded him to climb on a roof (!) and fly like a bird so the fringe of his jacket flew around him. We were able to film Jini at the opening events where she mingled with famous rock photographers like Henry Diltz & Jim Marshall (Janis Joplin/ Crosby Stills & Nash/ Johnny Cash), Charles Peterson (Nirvana) and Alice Wheeler (Nirvana and Neko Case).
I’ve felt strongly after learning about her remarkable life story that by exploring Jini’s relationship with these bands, I could create something that is still relevant today, and speaks to all of us about pursuing our artistic direction, exploring the art of the possible. An integral part of this documentary journey is crafting an intimate and fascinating exploration of how an ordinary life could become so extraordinary and hopefully, helping to preserve an important photographic legacy along the way.
Slice: Who is your audience?
Karen: Short answer: everyone! Jini’s story transcends generations from the Baby Boomers to indie music lovers as well as current photography and art students looking for an engaging twist on a period of music history and a master artist they might not, but really should, know about!
“Her Aim Is True” is uniquely placed through Jini’s storytelling to takes audiences on a riveting journey through several genres in music and photography from rock and Jazz to Grunge, fashion, architecture and fine art. I think my struggle to bring the story to a wider audience and pursue my artistic direction with the same resilience that Jini showed in her own pursuit of art, is also a story worth following!
Slice: What do you hope to accomplish by telling this story?
Karen: I want Jini’s artistic excellence, creativity and innovation to be shared with the world and that is why I put my passion and resources into this project. I also think giving Jini an opportunity to tell her story and for audiences to hear another female voice emerge from decades in the shadows is vital (to us all). In making this film I want to (show that) Jini’s distinctive life in art deserves our critical attention.
Slice: What have been some of your challenges in terms of funding?
Karen: Indie arts films like this are hard to make because funds (are typically) linked to supporting projects that highlight social justice causes. Having a documentary “without a cause” is doubly difficult when your subject matter and chief storyteller is unknown and aging! Plus, as the filmmaker I am not a known Hollywood connected wheeler-dealer with studio resources and industry investors behind me. I am also not making an indie-blockbuster of the “march of the penguins” level, with the promise of a huge box office return.
Slice: How can we find out more about the project?
Karen: The best way is to explore Jini’s story is to view the trailer and other clips and surf the production info on our production blog here:
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
And sign up for our email newsletter by contacting us directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Slice: How can we help?
Karen: Let’s make sure stories like Jini’s are not “lost”. Given the current climate for arts funding, with threats to vital lifelines like the National Endowment for The Arts, it is increasingly up to individuals to engage not merely as an audience – viewing a finished product, but as a participator much earlier on in the process. The good news is that I have managed to fund production and am close to finishing the film. The challenge is that I am trying to raise funds for final filming costs, including B roll and archive material to complete the “rough cut” version. That will enable me to go to film festivals and apply for finishing funds from within the film industry.
Here are two simple ways to help that take only a few moments:
1)”Like” the production blog, share it on Facebook. Encourage your network to check this story out!
2) Consider a tax-deductible donation to our “kickfinish this film campaign”! You can click here to get to the donation page and use PayPal for your payment. Or, if you prefer, mail a check to our fiscal sponsor, Northwest Film Forum (details provided on the donate page, too.)
Finally, if you are feeling really inspired, you might consider a third way of helping:
Grassroots donations have become the lifeblood of projects like mine. Host a fundraising party with light refreshments and invite your close friends – the team will provide behind the scenes footage, and the director will conduct a Q & A session (via Skype or in person, depending location) with an exclusive inside scoop on making this film!