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World Premiere

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2021

Jared Jakins

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SCENES FROM THE GLITTERING WORLD from director Jared Jakins had its virtual World Premiere at the 2021 Full Frame Documentary Festival June. This powerful and timely documentary follows Granite, Ilii & Noah, three Indigenous youths who are trying to figure out who they are and how best to forge their own paths in life.

We spoke with Jared Jakins ahead of the festival.

Hi Jared thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these strange times?


Thanks for the opportunity to connect with TNC! I’m thrilled to be able to talk with you. Strange times indeed! My family has been doing fine, very grateful and fortunate to have had only minor discomforts the past year.


Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?


Most of my commercial work in 2020 was cancelled or postponed, which was undoubtedly a challenge, but it also allowed more time to remotely work with my editor and cultural advisement team to finish our post-production for ‘Scenes’. It has also given my team some breathing room to start exploring what comes next. I also reconnected with some childhood hobbies and took on the challenge of restoring a small 1969 100cc Yamaha Trailmaster motorcycle. A nice reprieve from screens and news.


You had an amazing run with El Desierto picking up several awards, did you imagine you would get such a great response to your short film?


It was a lovely experience sharing El Desierto, a film that was a bit of an experiment and a creative risk for Carly and I (Carly is my wife and close collaborator. We co-directed El Desierto). It was in some ways an exercise in finding formal ways to pointedly get at the core of the film’s theme. It is essentially a silent film in the vein of the city symphonies. The lack of dialogue functions help audiences consider the loneliness and isolation of our subject. It’s really a film about my own community. I grew up in a very rural, very small town in the western United States known for producing wool. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I realized that this industry is totally dependent on migrant shepherds that are in large part recruited from South America to come work on special work visas. These workers experience a melange of working conditions, with the constant being major isolation, both geographic and cultural. It was obviously very rewarding to see the film be well received and to be able open the curtain a little to the Sisyphean plight of migrant workers in the west. It was also a pleasure to document the subject’s immense skill in his trade! Seeing thousands of sheep moving under the direction of a skilled shepherd is not to be missed.


Congratulations on having your World Premiere of Scenes From The Glittering World selected for Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2021, what does it mean to be part of the festival?


Full Frame is an amazing festival. Many of my peers and mentors claim it as one of their all time favourite festival experiences. They have a reputation for being impeccable in their curation and hospitality. Additionally the critical dialogue generated at the festival is crucial to the US and international documentary communities. It’s really an honour to be a part of the lineup this year. The team at Full Frame has been extremely helpful and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Do you ever get nerves ahead of a festival screening?


I think the playbook has totally changed with things being virtual for our premiere. I think I’d typically, yes, be very excited and anxious to engage with audiences, but that sense has mostly turned to something unfamiliar, something I’m still very excited for, but very much a new experience.


Can you tell me a little bit about Scenes From The Glittering World, how did this film come about?


Like most people in the American West, I am a transplant. I arrived as a child from South Africa when my family immigrated to a small Mormon community in Utah. At an early age I learned of the West’s mythic place in the wider fabric of the United States and found myself fascinated by its checkered history. At the same time, I felt culturally and emotionally displaced as an outsider in my new home. Because of these formative experiences I have been drawn to documenting the stories of others who, for whatever reason, have been displaced culturally, economically, geographically, or even through settler colonial oppression.


When I first learned of the Navajo Mountain Community, I immediately felt there was an opportunity to explore some of these themes. In engaging with our three main subjects, I found that despite physical distance and the history of oppression that still reverberates throughout the region, there is a universality and familiarity in their coming of age in America. I was inspired by the ways the subjects navigated aspirations and daily responsibilities, trauma and the weight of adulthood. I was inspired by the humour, closeness of the families, and collective resilience.


My introduction to the community came in a few phases. I shot a production for a local company that highlighted some families on the Navajo Nation that were receiving electricity for the first time in their homes. I was moved by the hardy sense of humour and resilience our subjects exuded and something stuck that if the opportunity arose, I’d like to go back and spend   more time there. Not long after that experience, I read about Navajo Mountain High School’s fledgling robotics team in some local papers and I felt that perhaps I’d found an entry point with broad appeal into learning more about life on the reservation. The film evolved from there. With time, I shifted my focus away from the struggling team and became determined to make contemporary portraiture that was both honest and hopeful about the reservation. The narrative needed to be rooted in the students’ personal experiences and driven by their own self realizations and representations.


How did you meet Noah, Ilii and Granite and what was it about their stories and experiences that connected with you as a filmmaker?


In the beginning we narrowed our search for subject to students on the robotics team. Immediately this led us to Noah and Granite. Noah was one of the first students to open up and really have a conversation with me and ultimately invited my producer and I to go visit his home and take a tour of the area. He is quiet and reserved but has a certain warmth and sincerity that we were drawn to early on. Granite was sorta the life of the party at school, very charming and funny. He liked to goof around but it took awhile for him to warm up to the idea of us spending time with him and a camera. Ilii as a student was extremely insightful and articulate but she wasn’t on the team not did she have an interest in joining it. Logically it seemed that she simply wouldn’t fit into a narrative about robotics but instinct took over and I began filming with her anyway, not sure how she would be included. I felt a connection to all of the students, being from a rural place myself with and having had experiences at very small tight knit schools. It’s a strange environment to come of age with connections to the wider world at your finger tips.


Did you feel any apprehensions about making this film?


Yes. Among many things: Distance -- Both geographic and cultural. Geographically speaking, the Navajo Mountain community is extremely remote. It straddles the Utah and Arizona border, nestled at the base of Navajo Mountain. It’s a hundred miles to the nearest city. It’s so remote that the San Juan School district built housing for teachers at the school. Since lodging at a hotel or Airbnb was simply unavailable, I was fortunate enough to be able to move my family into one of the unused teacher housing units while we did production. This proximity to the school and students helped immensely to earn trust with our subjects and their families. The familial element is crucial to the film and I needed to prove I wasn’t there to simply strip-mine the community and leave. Navigating the challenges of respectfully observing and crafting a portrait a culture that was unfamiliar required the dedicated and generous help of many cultural advisors. Roni Jo Draper, our producer and lead cultural advisor, nurtured a passion in the whole team to get the nuances right.


As a filmmaker how flexible are you on a film once you start production?


I seem to begin a project with certain guiding motivations and interests but so far my film’s seem to find their own stride and voice through close collaboration with subjects. This film is perhaps the most extreme example of that for me to date. As I mentioned before, initially the film was centred on a fledgling robotics program at Navajo Mountain High School, the most remote public school in the continental US. After filming the robotics season, it became apparent that the robotics angle simply wasn’t very compelling to the subjects themselves and their hearts weren’t really set on that outlet of expression. So, we shifted our focus away from the competition. This allowed us to spend more time exploring the film’s three protagonists and frame them in a more intimate, collaborative, and heartfelt way.

Much to my producers chagrin, when the first conversations starting happening about cutting the robotics angle completely, there was a lot of apprehension. It ultimately allowed for the film to come into it’s own and formally reflect the central story tellers whilst allowing for them the have a stake in crafting their own representation and authorship.

"Networking is also something not to be overlooked, critical to success is surrounding yourself with smarter more talented people!"

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on this film?


This is a tough question! It seems in the latter end of a production, that once trust has been established, the gears are all greased nicely and some of the best material just starts to flow. It’s a natural process and one that can’t really be artificially replicated. It’s extremely satisfying to arrive at a place like that with collaborator and subjects. In retrospectively assessing how the relationships and threads in the film emerged it’s potentially hazardous to look back through that process and wonder why you didn’t just start with some of those ideas or threads at the beginning. But it comes back to trusting the process and yourself 6 months ago and 6 months from now.


Should filmmakers push the boundaries of stories they want to tell?


Absolutely. Are we in a golden age of non-fiction storytelling or what! Streaming has really allowed for docs to find audiences and it’s exciting to see the form expanding and getting more general attention.


Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?


Filmmaking has been a natural evolution of my lifelong interest in photography and image making. I studied photography until I met my now-wife and close collaborator Carly, who has a background in anthropology. We’ve since melded our interests into documentary practices and focus on telling stories of marginalized communities and experiences of cultural or economic intersections that challenge a mythic view of the American West.


How much did you work on your previous short films prepare you for taking the helm of your debut feature?


It was vital. It allowed my team to find our strengths, areas to explore and improve, and ultimately helped myself and other stakeholders gain a confidence in the process of working through a project finding it’s own way. Networking is also something not to be overlooked, critical to success is surrounding yourself with smarter more talented people!


Do you have any advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?


Be brave, it’s not easy. Pursue only what you’re really passionate about. Don’t get caught up in the technical and marketing traps of the latest and great equipment, focus on the stories only you can tell, or the stories that you can’t simply walk away from.


And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Scenes From The Glittering World?


I hope audiences are moved by our characters’ survivance, the love of their families, and the healing freely offered by their sacred lands.

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