CCI Staff Member Opens Our Eyes to Documentary Filmmaking
By Joanna Flagler, Marketing and Communications Director
CCI staff member, Erin Kelly, is an avid storyteller. After all, she traveled across 6 continents, over 99 days, to document the stories of 11 individuals. Erin and her mother, Gail Mooney, went on this journey together and the end product of their storytelling is the documentary, Opening Our Eyes. It is the story about the “global power of one”: ordinary people who are making a positive difference in the world. The documentary is getting noticed – most recently it won the “Best Trailer Competition” at the Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival and “Best Documentary Feature” at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival.
In this interview, we wanted to catch up with Erin and hear about her experience meeting inspirational people, traveling with her mother, and attending film festivals all over the U.S.
CCI is a proud supporter and sponsor of the documentary. To learn more about Opening Our Eyes, follow them on Facebook or visit their website, openingoureyes.net. A screening of the film may be coming to a city near you and you can tell them you heard it here first!
You met some amazing people over the course of 99 days – at what point did you realize that this was truly a film about “making a difference”?
The idea from the beginning was to find people who were making a positive difference on a grassroots level. So we knew that we would be meeting change-makers. But meeting them in person and seeing their worlds and the direct impact they were having on their communities definitely exceeded our expectations in terms of how much they were in fact making a difference. I saw a woman get on her knees and thank Letha for helping to save her daughter’s life in Uganda. I watched a whole village line up to see Dr. Marnaw at his mobile clinic as he gave free medical treatment to people who have never seen a doctor in their lives. These individuals were making a direct impact on others and it was truly inspiring to see.
Part of the motivation for making the film was to inspire others to go out and do something themselves, but when someone tells you that their paradigm of thinking has shifted after watching the film, you know that you have helped to make a difference too.
Eleven subjects were filmed – how did you choose them?
We emailed everyone we knew and used all the social media sites available to spread the word that we were looking for subjects for the film. Most of the time it was through word of mouth: a friend who had a cousin, who once volunteered in a country and met someone. We got so many different stories that it was really hard to choose. It ended up having much to do with how the subjects would work into our schedule. We were flying on a round-the-world reward ticket, using airline miles, so there were many restrictions that we were bound by (such as continuing to fly in the same direction). The subject had to be in the country at the time we were going to be there, so logistics played a big part in the decision-making.
In your bio on the website www.openingoureyes.net, you write you had “adventures traveling the globe with my parents throughout my childhood.” What was that like? Where did you go? What do you remember most?
I grew up traveling many places as both my parents are professional photographers and often had international assignments for publications like the National Geographic or Travel and Leisure. If they didn’t have an assignment, we would still make sure to take a trip at least once a year. Some of the most memorable trips included a last minute weekend getaway to Amsterdam just a month after 9/11, riding a camel to the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and spending three days at Machu Picchu just soaking it in. Given the nature of my parents’ profession, most trips consisted of a lot of waiting around in one spot for the right moment, the right light, the right time to take a picture. But I realize now that those experiences allowed me to slow down, appreciate the moment and see the surrounding place and culture on a more intimate level. I definitely feel fortunate to have had such a childhood and to be given these opportunities to explore the world. It certainly has shaped my career path and who I am today.
How did your work on the film lead you to CCI?
I have always had a passion for learning about different cultures, places, languages, etc. This stemmed from my travels throughout my childhood and my studies in college (I was an Anthropology and International Studies major). But after taking the trip, it certainly opened my eyes more to how much in common we have as humans, no matter where we are from, and that the only way to understand that is to meet people from different countries face-to-face. I wanted to help facilitate this cross-cultural understanding, specifically for young people. So I looked for cultural exchange organizations in Chicago and CCI was the perfect fit.
It wasn’t until the film was finished and we started showing it to audiences and getting feedback that we realized that by doing the film, we ourselves were making a small difference, too.
How would you describe the experience of working with your mom?
Working with my mom was interesting and a bit different from what I expected. Since I had grown up around my mom working on assignments, I had a good idea of how she would operate. But I wasn’t just waiting in the background this time, I was working with her and it really was an equal partnership. She arranged all of the travel in the beginning, while I coordinated with the subjects and their schedules. She did all the filming while I shot still pictures, did the sound, and conducted the interviews.
We are two very different people, which was probably best because we brought different things to the team and complemented each other. Of course there were ups and downs, but it’s impossible not to fight when you are with the same person 24 hours a day for 3 months straight.
The most interesting part, and really the best part of the experience for me, was that I came to see my mother as a real person, rather than just my mother. She was my travel companion, my confidante, my best friend. And I think the reverse happened for her, too.
The trailer notes, “We discovered the power within us to make the impossible, possible”. How do you think viewers of the documentary will make the “impossible, possible” in their everyday lives after watching this film?
Our hope is that this film will inspire others to do something that they are passionate about, something in their own way that will make a difference. It doesn’t have to be something big, we don’t expect everyone to pick up and move to another country and build a home for children. The idea is that even one person can do something that will make a positive difference, no matter how small, in the environment or in someone else’s life. We hope it will make people think outside of themselves and do something, not for the recognition of doing, but for the pure sake and joy of doing.
What adventures ensued upon releasing the trailer? (i.e. have there been screenings or other special appearances?)
The trailer has been seen in almost 140 countries (more than half of the countries in the world), which is amazing. We have been using social media since the start of this project and it’s been great to see the story become global since it really is a global story. We had our first sneak preview of the finished film in July 2011 at the historic State Theater in Traverse City, Michigan, a very special place in our hearts where we have a good deal of family. From there, we have had several community screenings (like the ones at CCI), which are great because that’s really where we can see the most impact being made, from talking to people afterwards and hearing their feedback. We have been accepted as a member of the San Francisco Film Society, which allows us to receive donations as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. In March, we went to our first film festival, the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, which was a fantastic experience. We had two screenings, received great ratings, and met many talented filmmakers with interesting stories. It was a lot of fun! We also were in the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, where we were honored to win the “Best Documentary Feature” award. We are gearing up for three more film festivals in the next month: the Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival, the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival, and the Awareness Film Festival. I’m looking forward to attending all of those, and of course hoping for more festivals to come!
What is the next step for the film?
We have a community screening set up in California, which actually a CCI Local Coordinator set up! She contacted me and really wanted to get involved and promote the film. I was invited back to my old stomping grounds, Northwestern University, to do a screening in May. And we will continue to see what other opportunities come our way.
We are also in the process of applying for several grants to help cover the costs of revamping our website that we have created for the project in order to transform it into an interactive platform for showcasing more stories and a resource for like-minded individuals to connect, share their experiences and collaborate on volunteer initiatives. Another goal is to shorten the film to under an hour so that it could be used in an educational setting and to develop an educational toolkit to accompany it. We hope to be able to use each story individually as its own piece to help support those specific people and their causes. And we look forward to continue working with CCI and Greenheart, one of our sponsors, on projects that we can mutually benefit from and that promote our very like-minded interests.
The documentary is finished, but the people in the story still live on. What would you like to say to them and the people that they are helping every day?
I would like to say to our subjects that they are incredibly inspiring and it is wonderful to think that there are more people out there like them. They graciously welcomed us into their lives, shared their stories and their passions, and they gave me hope in the future of society. I am 110% behind them in what they are doing and I hope that we have done their stories at least a small bit of justice and can continue to help promote their causes. It was an honor to have met them and a privilege to be able to share their stories with the world.