A new fund for emerging filmmakers has been created by the St. John’s International Film Festival to honour the life of local filmmaker Michelle Jackson. She passed away unexpectedly on January 18. She was 34.By Andreae Prozesky
“I have a feeling that no matter how many films Michelle might have ended up making, they’d all be characterized by a wide appreciation for the extraordinary in the ordinary,” says Noreen Golfman, chair of the St. John’s International Women’s Film and Video Festival, and friend of late filmmaker Michelle Jackson.
When Jackson passed away suddenly this past month, she left behind a loving family, an enormous community of friends and admirers, and a blossoming career as a filmmaker. Her documentary, Mary Power, a Life in Stories, was a much-loved entry in last year’s St. John’s International Women’s Film and Video Festival. Only thirty-four years old, Jackson had already established herself as a bright, fresh voice, as a multi-talented industry professional, and as a mentor to other young filmmakers. Jackson’s vision, says Golfman, “recognized a sense of beauty in people and in nature, a sense of the possibility of joy in everyday life . . . the positives of the human condition.”
While news of Jackson’s passing was circulating through St. John’s, Golfman was working on a plan to create the Jackson Emerging Filmmakers Fund. “I needed to get the fund going immediately to alert everyone who was grieving and in shock and felt the need to do something meaningful to honour Michelle.” Details of how the fund will be administered are still in the works, but Golfman says that it will offer financial support to first-time filmmakers. It’s the sort of support that Jackson would have made good use of during the making of Mary Power, where Golfman says the filmmaker faced “the predictable kind of challenges—raising enough money to do the film justice.”
Golfman wasn’t the only one who thought that a fund would be the proper way to recognize Jackson’s contribution to the film community; while she was thinking the fund over, writer-performer Sean Panting, Jackson’s brother in law, phoned Golfman up to propose the same plan. “Everyone has been saying that Michelle would have loved the idea of giving someone the opportunity and confidence to make a film,” Golfman says.
Filmmaker and actor Stephen Dunn hopes that the fund will “encourage other young filmmakers to build the confidence they need to follow through with their passions.”
Dunn had the opportunity to work with Jackson often over the last few years, through the Women’s Film Festival’s FRAMED summer film camp (The software company for which Jackson worked—Celtx—was a partner in the program), and through the Screen Arts Student Festival. He and other student filmmakers felt like they could easily relate to her.
“I’m not sure if it was because of her status as an emerging filmmaker or because of her genuine interest in our own projects,” he says, “but we all felt an automatically brilliant connection with her.” Dunn remembers Jackson asking them for advice at the same time as they were asking for her input on their screenplays. “I always felt like we were working together,” he says.
Jackson was enthusiastic about mentoring, about workshopping ideas, and about sharing details about the filmmaking process.
“I just loved watching her with the students,” says Kelly Davis, Women’s Film Festival executive director. “She nurtured them, encouraged them and taught them a lot.” Davis recalls that working with youth was something Jackson wanted to continue throughout her career.
“Because of her, I think there is going to be a really solid generation of filmmakers developing in Newfoundland,” Dunn says. “I don’t think there’s a high school student on the Avalon who doesn’t have their own Celtx t-shirt!”
Knowing Michelle, Golfman says, it seemed natural and important to create a fund like this in her name. “It’s a way of passing a torch, inspired by her goodness,” she says.
To make a donation to the Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmakers Fund, please contact the St. John’s International Film and Video Festival at 709-754-3141, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit them at www.womensfilmfestival.com.