This is a blog post I wrote with a fellow documentary filmmaker, Karen Whitehead. It was featured on the Women In Hollywood Blog today, May 9, 2013.
We are both filmmakers launching documentaries featuring different generations of women pursuing their artistic vision in the predominantly male bastion of rock and roll. And of course, the challenges of telling these invisible stories in the predominantly male bastion of film are much the same — which is an irony not lost on both of us. Here are each of our stories:
I first met Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses eight years ago, on her tour bus, an hour after she used a pair of pliers to pull out her own tooth. She told me this story while calmly soothing her two year old child. My initial reaction was “
! Who does that?” “My second reaction was “this woman is pure punk rock; I wish I had filmed that.”
And so began an almost decade long adventure creating the documentary Rock N Roll Mamas. For the next six years I followed musician/mothers Kristin Hersh, Zia McCabe of The Dandy Warhols, and hip hop artist, Ms.Su’ad as they toured and performed, went to play dates, and juggled childcare. It is a mixture that isn’t the glamorous life we imagine when we think of rock musicians, it’s the reality of being a mom and a musician.
I made the film to shed light on these women’s seemingly invisible experiences and because their experiences mirrored my own as a filmmaker/mother. Like the alternative music scene, documentary filmmaking can be a costly and often thankless endeavor. Here, I had the added challenge of long term storytelling which meant I needed to find the persistence, time, and money to keep following these women year after year while their stories unfolded. I am proud to have completed a film that that strikes a chord in all who see it, and especially in women, artists, music lovers, and parents of all stripes.
However, even though I am hustling every day to get it out it further into the world, the ultimate reach of the film is uncertain. Distribution is up in the air and obtaining clearance for broadcast, theatrical, and DVD/digital download rights are frankly unaffordable for an independent filmmaker. In this way, documentary filmmaking can be like “pulling teeth,” but without the punk rock edge.
Like the rock mom
s who inspired me, I’ll do what I need to do. Hopefully, this film will be an inspiration for contemporaries with other hidden women’s stories to tell. But when will we get these stories told without pulling teeth?
They all said that I shouldn’t make make this film. But I could not walk away from Jini Dellaccio’s story despite the huge challenge I knew I would face getting it funded. I was captivated by the courage and talent of a woman who pursued her own indie vision and never allowed fear of being unknown or operating in a male dominated environment to limit her choices.
Her Aim Is True documents Jini Dellaccio’s seminal artistry in the early 60s rock and roll scene coupled with her fascinating life story first from jazz saxophone player with all girl groups in the 1930s to self-taught photographer in the 1950s. She did all this before shooting album covers in her middle-age for some of America’s original punk rockers (The Wailers and The Sonics) and live performances by legendary musicians including The Who and Mitch Ryder. As an early documentarian of the Pacific Northwest’s distinctive music subculture, Jini just went about her artistry undeterred, and clearly with no thoughts of fame. Her story is the rarely documented and unsexy professionalism of a great photographer.
I found myself discovering myself in the process of uncovering Jini’s story. I was motivated by the anonymity of a woman artist in her 90s with a forgotten archive and my own relative obscurity as an indie filmmaker. There was something about the parallel lives of invisible women behind cameras that struck a chord. This is how I built the production and with it, the sustaining community around my film. But there is no escaping the missing link between stories and audiences because of the daunting demands of post -production and distribution.
Jini’s story will now be revealed at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, but my journey to reach wider audiences is just beginning.
JACKIE WEISSMAN is the owner of Rock Mama Films, LLC and a freelance Director/Producer/Editor in Portland, Oregon. www.rocknrollmamas.com
KAREN WHITEHEAD is British independent filmmaker based in Washington DC. Her Aim Is True will have its world premiere at Seattle International Film Festival May 2013. www.heraimistruemovie.com