Magazine article Filmmaker

Recording the Movement

Magazine article Filmmaker

Recording the Movement

Article excerpt

With no political connections in Chicago, or anywhere for that matter, director Jenn Shaw reached out to the Barack Obama campaign in the hopes of documenting the Obama Organizing Fellows, a unique six-week training program that would "train a new generation of leaders" through community organizing and grassroots canvassing. "I knew no one at the campaign, I'm not a politico, but I was intrigued by the movement more than Barack himself," recalls Shaw, who had studied film as an undergrad at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and was heading a music Web site company. "I contacted everyone in Chicago, but no one got back to me," she says. But suddenly, three weeks before the program began on June 14, she got a call from Kate Albright-Hanna, the director of the program: She could film as a volunteer, with no pay, and she could have the rights to the film if the campaign could use the footage.

Suddenly Shaw was shooting her very first feature, alone, armed with only a 24p Panasonic camera and no crew. Fascinated by a unique tale she would discover was quite common amongst the Obama Fellows: stories of genuine inspiration lived by people who had never been inspired before. She was given the option of shooting in Colorado, Atlanta and Pennsylvania, and ultimately decided upon Pennsylvania due to its breadth of "political history and corruption." Scraping together money to get by, she spent six months in Pennsylvania covering the program. "It was so hard," Shaw remembers. "Some days I really was on my last dime. Now that I look back I have no idea how I made it."

Once in Pennsylvania, she quickly shifted her focus from documenting the suburban area to filming the urban area, including West Philly, as she came to realize "there was nothing at stake [in the suburbs] compared to the urban issues.... For the people in the urban areas, [the election] was a must-win because of issues like healthcare. I remember this moment with one of the organizers named Jonta, who was on the side of the road with a homeless older woman who was saying how her life was over and that Obama would never change things for her. I think that was the moment when I truly understood the urgent need for hope in the community. …

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