By Jeanne Ronan, JBFC Adult Student06.30.16
Marie Venezia and I, two long-time students of the JBFC's Adult courses, created the short film Faces of Heart (featured above) for the American Heart Association's Westchester-Fairfield 2016 Go Red For Women fundraising luncheon held on May 4 at The Stamford Marriott.
In terms of the intended audience, this film is for everyone - men as well as women - because both men and women need to know that heart disease is the number one killer of women. However, in terms of production Faces of Heart could be labeled a “chick flick” because it was all about women helping women on the day of the shoot. On February 27, Marie and I interviewed six amazing women who are all survivors of serious cardiovascular illness. Also present on the set were three key women staffers from the American Heart Association, Judy Campisi, Carolyn Torella and Deena Kaye; as well as two professional hair and make-up artists, Jacqueline Helene and Deanna Danielle, who volunteered for the cause. So we had 13 women under one roof all working together to raise awareness about women and heart disease.
Marie and I met at the JBFC Media Arts Lab in September 2014 on day one of our very first documentary filmmaking class. While volunteering at the Capitol Theatre, Marie met Deena, the Director of the AHA’s Go Red For Women campaign. The three of us gathered at a local Starbucks in December 2015 to discuss the idea of creating the short film for the 2016 fundraising luncheon. Marie and I both signed up for Diane Hodson’s Works in Progress Salon, and Marie also signed up for Theresa Dawson’s Reel Change for Nonprofits for the Spring 2016 semester so that the support would be in place to successfully pull off this project.
In January 2016 Marie and I visited Deena’s office in Norwalk, CT to hammer out the production schedule. One of the initial logistical challenges we faced was not having access to a studio, but after purchasing a white background and flagging the windows in Marie’s living room with giant beach towels the conversion to a professional-looking studio was complete. (Prayers were said that none of the neighbors would engage in any noisy projects on the day of the shoot!) After spending hours prior to the shoot experimenting with the lighting kit, we felt confident we could achieve the clean look of the film that we were aiming for.
Upon moving into the editing phase, Marie and I soon discovered that juggling the stories of six people in a film that needed to be kept to six and half minutes might confuse or overwhelm the audience. We decided to present a rough cut to the AHA using only four of the survivors. Even though we felt that it was a stronger film with fewer subjects, we felt awful about excluding two incredible women who had such moving stories and who had so generously offered their time to get the word out about women and heart disease. Our first documentary film instructor at the JBFC, Yolanda Pividal introduced us to the fact that when you edit a film you must have the courage “to kill your darlings” - and this situation was a perfect example because we loved the contributions of these brave survivors - but we needed to sacrifice their segments in order to make the film work.
At the rough cut meeting Carolyn Torella, Regional Director of Communications, proposed that Marie and I create two one-minute PSAs for each of the survivors who had been cut from the main film. This was a great solution that really worked for everyone involved, including Cynthia and Massala, the two women whose interviews became PSAs. On May 4 at the fundraising luncheon the PSAs were looped on screens throughout the event space and Faces of Heart was shown on two large screens in the ballroom before hundreds of attendees.
Marie and I look forward to future collaborations. I think we both felt really comfortable throughout the entire process as co-directors - each one of us having “veto power”. At the start of the editing process we divided up the workload, each of us cutting footage from three of our interviewees. We sat side by side when it came time to put together our first assembly, and we worked that way for the rest of the editing process.
The two of us will definitely be back to take courses at the Media Arts Lab this Fall and continue on our filmmaking journeys. It was extremely rewarding to work on a film project that had a specific purpose in this world. It is also a cause that is personally near and dear to both of us. We were grateful for the opportunity to work with such fantastic women - and we would do it again in a heartbeat!