Room with a Tacoma View

By Karen Whitehead, director Her Aim Is True
There’s a myth about filmmaking you often hear: films happen when you turn on the cameras and you can always find your story when you start shooting. Well, that may work for some, but my documentary Her Aim Is True about unlikely rock and roll photographer Jini Dellaccio would have been missing most of its narrative backbone if I had taken that approach. The best kept secret of my film’s storytelling lies in a room, the Northwest Room to be precise in the Tacoma public library.

I have to confess too, that long before I was a filmmaker I was a dedicated fan of local libraries. In the suburbs of London where I grew up, my nearest library was a sprawling Victorian manor house where the floorboards creaked underfoot and the huge picture-perfect windows looked out onto a small park with a vista of the London skyline aligned above the treetops. It was a perfect place where past, present and future interconnected. The building was heaving with thousands of stories from the past begging to be shared. This is the magic experience that binds people and their life experiences to libraries anywhere. As I outgrew the children’s section I began exploring the local history archives and I suspect my love of history and storytelling was born in my many hours pouring over a gold mine of memories preserved within those walls.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. I meet a 92-year-old woman who just happened in the mid 1960s to have produced some of the most striking images ever in rock and roll photography including album covers that broke all the rules of how to do a band publicity shot. Not surprisingly, behind this startling revelation is Jini Dellaccio’s compelling personal story about her journey in life as an artist – from which you can begin to fathom how she ended up hanging out with some of the Pacific Northwest’s talented original punk rockers and documented a vibrant music scene that has had such global influence. To help Jini Dellaccio share her story on camera, I felt that I needed to immerse myself in her world and see it for myself. This meant going beyond the interviews I did with the musicians and participants in the teen dance scene but finding its trail in the archives – specifically the rich photographic archive which includes The remarkable Richards Collection.

Teen Dancing in Tacoma  The Richards' Collection,  courtesy Tacoma Public Library

Teen Dancing in Tacoma The Richards’ Collection,
courtesy Tacoma Public Library

In the film, being able to move between the expressive teen faces peering out of those photos to the stories being told by the musicians who were playing to that crowd on a weekly basis in the early 1960s was a vital connecting piece for the story of an unlikely rock and roll photographer, who became part of this scene in her middle age. With the help of the Northwest Room staff, I was also able to fill many ‘holes’ in my knowledge of where, when, what in Tacoma’s under-appreciated contribution to the region’s rich music subculture and Dellaccio’s important role in the process. Sourcing original publicity shots of The Wailers before they met Jini, perusing teen dance posters about Battles of The Bands featuring “the boys from Tacoma” and news reports translated into a rich visual tapestry that I had always envisioned for the film, to compliment Jini’s charming storytelling.

The great thing about documentary is that you get to explore and discover lesser known or completely hidden stories. If you are open and curious, who knows where it will lead. One of my fondest memories from our shoot days, is sitting with original Wailer Buck Ormsby in the actual spot where Jini heard rock and roll for the first time – The Tacoma Armory. As we projected teen dance images onto the walls, I couldn’t help but think about how we found our northwest cool.

So, for this old library fanatic, archival hunting has proved to be the glue of true storytelling, that helps share life experiences from generation to generation. History. Pass It On…
Her Aim Is True plays Tacoma Film Festival next week!