There is a line of rock doves on a power line near my house. They’re lined up perfectly. At the right angle, it’s just pigeon, wire, and sky. It is an arresting visual. I want to put them in a movie. I want to put them into the Juneau Underground Motion Picture, or JUMP, Society film festival.
The JUMP film festival is unlike any film festival in the country. Greg Chaney is a local filmmaker who has participated in all 20 of the JUMP film festivals and about a dozen other festivals across the nation. Chaney believes JUMP is “absolutely” a community forum. Any Juneauite can show a film as long as it fits the generous parameters of the JUMP festival requirements.
Courtney Nelson agrees. Nelson feels JUMP allows “a glimpse into the mind of another community member.” Nelson will have submitted three films to JUMP including the upcoming festival where Nelson and a group of students address Native American history. Chaney once submitted a film mocking exercise programs by showcasing weight lifting with eyebrows. (“Superciliary Exercise Program” was initially rejected and then accepted to a film festival in England because, in the words of the festival director, “We couldn’t stop thinking about it.”). Antoine Doiron has worked on and promoted his upcoming film “Space Trucker Bruce” at JUMP. Izzy Christenson takes on the debate between Piers Morgan and Alex Jones on gun control. And Corin Hughes-Skandijs once depicted a character peeing his pants rather than exerting the effort go to the bathroom as a liberating life choice. I’m not sure that’s the glimpse we wanted into Hughes-Skandijs’s mind, but there it is. Juneauites minds are active and varied, serious and silly, wily and warped, and JUMP provides the window.
If not for JUMP, many of these folks would not be making films in the first place. There are practical reasons. Nelson likes how JUMP gives her a deadline, something to work for. Others appreciate JUMP for forcing them to enhance the professionalism of their films, like making sure the music is legal and the actors have signed waivers.
More than anything however is how JUMP jumpstarts Juneauites’ dreams of filmmaking careers. Doiron said, “JUMP has inspired me to become a filmmaker.” Between his first film and now, Doiron has nearly completed a feature length film “Space Trucker Bruce,” Because of JUMP, “I realized … that filmmaking is my passion and my career.” Nearly every person I talked to dreams of that potential.
Some are actively turning their dream to reality. Chaney figures JUMP taught him how to edit. By gauging his and others’ works, Chaney developed a sense of when to enter and leave a scene so the pacing doesn’t drag. This “sense” for editing became important for Chaney when he found himself with a hundred hours of footage from a couple that walked from Washington State to the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. By editing this footage to two hours and less, Chaney created “Journey on the Wild Coast,” his most successful film to date. “I really had a sense of what would work given my experience.”
“Journey on the Wild Coast” has been to a number of film festivals and won a number of awards. It was selected “Best of Fest” at the 2010 Anchorage International Film Festival. It won the Seven Summits Best Feature from the Mountain Film Festival. Perhaps most spectacularly, the film won a Special Jury Award at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Chaney’s story about having to climb over people to get out of his seat to give a speech when completely unprepared is pretty awesome. (Nobody expected Chaney’s film to win, including Chaney, so it’s not like he got an aisle seat). “It’s all down to JUMP,” added Chaney.
One advantage of the JUMP festival that (ahem) jumps out again and again is that Juneau filmmakers love the availability of an audience.
Hughes-Skandijs is one of the more prolific of the local filmmakers. “It’s been really cool to see some of the regular contributors hone their skills over the years...including myself. I think that’s something that can be completely chalked up to the JUMP guys for providing that outlet, where an … audience can tell you what you need to be working on.”
“The immediate reaction of the audience provides filmmakers something film schools cannot — figuring out what audiences like.” Christenson does not necessarily need to show his works at JUMP to have an audience, as much of his work is posted online. However, JUMP provides Christenson the ability to introduce audiences to new editing techniques and receive feedback. Christenson busted onto the JUMP scene with a mash up of Teletubbies and Daft Punk. He was six. The rest of us dinosaurs need JUMP as our main audience. For Christenson, now 14, JUMP is used as an airing of his more absurd endeavors.”
Chaney has put a number of comedies into JUMP.
“Having a JUMP audience not respond to something you thought was funny can be pretty profound.” Imagine having a joke fall flat at a party. Imagine you worked for hours on that joke. “On the other hand, you may not intend something to be funny but find out it was.”
JUMP is a film festival without a competition. This allows the audience to walk away with their own personal favorites. JUMP is unique in that respect. Most festivals are competitions and hard to get into. According to Chaney, the competitive aspect of festivals elsewhere sucks the fun out of them.
And fun is the other common theme. It’s fun to make movies. It’s fun to shoot, to work with the actors and even to edit. Christenson very much wanted me to relate that though filmmaking is hard, it has to be fun. And when you look at Christenson’s work, so detailed and minute with hundreds if not thousands of edits in a short time; or Doiron’s work, where five seconds may take two days of computer processing time, and you see that it’s much more than fame and fortune driving these folks. It has to be fun.
What inspires the filmmakers is as varied as the works they produce. Sometimes it’s simple. Antoine’s first movies were made for a Spanish class. Christenson often goes back to a television staple of his childhood, “Blue’s Clues,” for inspiration. For Hughes-Skandijs, soundtracks and film scores undam the creative juices. Sometimes inspiration is impressive and grand. Nelson’s step dad was an Emmy award winning title designer for feature films. He introduced Nelson to the creative world of Hollywood where she got to witness him meeting with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola.
Inspiration could be birds on a wire. Do gray birds on a black wire against a gray sky suggest something poignant? Or should I go for silly and have actors dodging bird poop in slow motion while “Flight of the Valkyries” plays in the background? Whether I go for poignant or puerile with those pigeons, it will have to wait until July. I missed the deadline for this weekend’s festival.
Filmmaking is a luxury of our modern lifestyle. To have time to ruminate on something so useless as the aesthetics of bird on a wire is, in the grand scheme of things, quite remarkable. If an asteroid hit the Gobi desert, dust blocked the sun, and daily survival became a reality, I’m putting the camera down and those pigeons are going into a soup. But that hasn’t happened and we still live in a time when a person can capture the images and stories that give them pause.
You can celebrate the luxury of filmmaking this weekend by seeing Juneau’s premiere showcase of locally produced film shorts at the biannual JUMP festival this weekend. For more information on times and tickets, go to http://jumpsociety.org.
• Clint J. Farr can be reached at email@example.com.