Over the past couple years, I've developed my skills as an expert documentary-viewer, often watching documentaries that get me riled up about a particular environmental or social justice issue. Having studied English as an undergrad, I appreciate compelling storytelling coupled with the artistry of crafting the cinematography with personal interviews, music, and narration that absolutely
lures me into the story. In fact, I'd even blame a documentary for leading me to the adventure of a year of living and serving in Southeast Alaska.
After a year of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Sitka, Alaska and time spent in an intentional community in Northeast Georgia at Jubilee Partners teaching English to refugees, there were more than a few stories I had heard that I felt like would make rather compelling documentaries.
If only I had a camera. And knew how to edit film...
So without too much searching last January, on a mid-morning coffee break a couple storefronts down from my office, I glanced over to see a flyer for the spring workshops sponsored by "Northwest Documentary," a non-profit in downtown Portland. By the time I walked the half-block back to my office it was settled: put the flyer on my co-worker's desk and said, "I'm doing this," pointing to the paragraph about the "DIY Documentary" 10-week workshop-week one: brainstorm a film idea, week ten: the Final Cut is turned in and shown on the big screen. Suddenly, the remaining funds from my Krista Foundation grant were burning a hole in my pocket.
With the first portion of my KF Service & Leadership Development Grant spent on a writer's conference last June, I had already started exploring the theme of "storytelling" as it relates to the service journey. More than any other "task" I had as a Jesuit Volunteer, I spent time listening to stories in Sitka from women I served at the domestic violence shelter, and often related it to "Staying for Tea," the foundational article by Aaron Ausland that has significantly shaped my understanding of and approach to service.
I registered for the course that week and dove into the creative, collaborative process of making my first film. Though I'd encountered many stories through service, many of them weren't geographically accessible from Portland within the 10-week timeframe I had to complete my project, so I approached a nearby friend and his family about telling the story of his father's emigration from Norway and his 52-year career as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. With his story in mind, I had ambitions of tackling huge issues: Northwest environmental concerns, immigration rights, economic considerations, the legacy of maintaining the family industry-but when I told my instructor the scope of story I had in mind for my first-ever film project, he suggested that I keep it simple. "Just tell the story of father and son,"he told me. So with only a few phone calls, we had a rough plan: I showed up in Bellingham, Washington with a camera I had touched approximately two times to interview my friend and his family about their legacy of fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
What unfolded was better than I could have imagined; I had the chance to sit with each member of the family individually and ask them limitless questions, hearing candid accounts of their lives, ultimately coming to understand their passion and commitment to their work over the next several weeks as I reviewed footage and pieced together a ten-minute film. I felt I had a huge responsibility being gifted with their story, and when their faces appeared on the big screen at the Mission Theater in downtown Portland at the "Homegrown Doc Fest" last month, I was thrilled to have been able to convey their story.
Most gratifying though was seeing the tears from both father and son when I personally showed the film to their family. After 52 seasons of grueling work as a fisherman in Alaska, the father beamed with silent pride while he watched his life recounted through ten minutes of film. From both this experience and my time in service, I'm still unpacking just how profound it is when another person offers their story to you, and I'm exceptionally grateful to have had the support from the Krista Foundation to have pursued this opportunity. I greatly look forward to further ways I can integrate my new film-making skills with my future pursuits in service leadership.