Only Connect

By Her Aim Is True director, Karen Whitehead

When I was writing the end of year review for the production (The twelve doc tales of christmas) what I described was the community around this film – the collaborations with colleagues and contributors behind the completion of Her Aim Is True in 2012.  My passion for telling stories like Jini Dellaccio’s lies in my belief films build bonds, meaningful ties that bring us together as society – whether it is sharing our life experiences, exploring the arts or addressing social injustice. Now, as I look ahead to the New Year, and hopefully the successful launch of this documentary after 3 years of production, I have a more personal reflection to share about “connecting” that goes beyond my filmmaking.

Every day I am reminded just how challenging making human connections can be. My younger son has autism. Humans, and the demands of daily life can be a mystery to him.  Often he has to navigate voices coming at him with demands he finds confusing and overwhelming. So, for my son, navigating social interactions is a staggering pressure that results in him withdrawing completely, or resorting to what some may find “anti-social” behavior. Regardless, I made a conscious decision during the production process to share with him what I was doing. I did not expect him to engage with Jini Dellaccio’s story as a pionnering rock and roll photographer in the early 1960s but knowing that he thinks in pictures – visual learning is his strength, I had a hunch he might enjoy seeing Jini Dellaccio’s photos and maybe link that to what I was doing when I disappeared on my shoots to Seattle, Washington State and the Pacific Northwest for days at a time, during the production process. After each trip, I shared with him some clips from my filming – so he became familiar with Jini Dellaccio and her photos. I also talked to Jini about my son. And something happened. My son joined my occasional Skype sessions with Jini between filming. They talked, they smiled, they laughed.  (Fellow parents of children impacted with autism will know how huge that last statement was.) I realized that from being exposed to my footage, he was fascinated and captivated by Jini Dellaccio. Then he got to talk to her in real time. (In my thinking, on a small scale, this may have been akin to the close bonds Dellaccio formed with the subjects of her lens all those years ago.)

The reason I am sharing this is twofold – one, it reminds me not to underestimate how valuable telling stories from our cultural heritage can also be in reaching unexpected audiences as well as the ones we have consciously identified in the early stages of production. I don’t think my son is going to be a leading photographer, but through connecting with Jini Dellaccio, he has come to understand a bit more about creativity in photography, music and art. Who else might be inspired by Her Aim Is True ? I can’t wait to find out.

Secondly, through the process of writing this on the eve of 2013, I have been contemplating all the uncertainty that is currently being expressed about the future of indie filmmaking.  How will arts films like this have a chance to get made (with ever scarce funding resources) and be seen widely (with so much flux in distribution platforms and shrinking opportunities for cinema runs)? I don’t have any specific answers here, but I am resolved in 2013 to keep working the three “C’s that have brought me to this point: collaboration, community and connecting. The last one being something my autistic son taught me.