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each people Lights! Camera! Change! Jon Fitzgerald and social impact cinema Jon Fitzgerald. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski by Bondo Wyszpolski Movies can simply amuse us or they can jolt up awake and leave us considering things from a new, unexplored perspective. Speaking with Jon Fitzgerald, it’s clear from the start which sort of motion picture he prefers, and why. “In the last decade or so I’ve gravitated to what I would call social impact films. Films that have something to say.” The title of his book, recently published in a second edition, doesn’t mince words: “Filmmaking for Change: Make Films that Transform the World.” But who is Jon Fitzgerald, what’s his background or experience, and why should we care? So let’s go back to the mid-’90s, shall we? Film student to festival director Jon Fitzgerald was born and raised in Redondo Beach (his parents attended Redondo Union High School), but then went to UC Santa Barbara and earned a degree in Film Studies. “After making an independent film that didn’t get into the Sundance Film Festival,” he says, “me and a couple of other guys started the Slamdance Film Festival, more as an opportunity for us to promote our films. And, for whatever combination of reasons, it really struck a chord with the community, with the industry, and with journalists. It became a bit of a Cinderella story. “That was 1995, over 20 years ago now, and it’s still going strong. I was the festival director for the next two years, and then AFI (the American Film Institute) brought me in to be their festival director.” He ran that much-heralded film festival from 1997 to 1999. “So I’ve had an opportunity to see literally thousands of films over the years.” This is where Fitzgerald’s resume begins branching into several directions at once. Periodically he’s been called in to direct film festivals, regional and national, as well as international. Abu Dhabi is an example of the latter. And, along the way, he’s also helped launch new film festivals in places like Orlando and the Bahamas. “When I started Slamdance,” he says, “there were less than 500 film festivals. Now there’s over 5,000.” To attend them all, we’d need to take in several each day, but cab fare would be prohibitive. While serving as the executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2003 something big crossed his mind. “It dawned on me that I was talking to a lot of independent filmmakers and advising them about how to play the festival circuit. And then there were festival directors launching in random places all over the country.” They’d heard about Slamdance and how it got started, and so they said to their buddies: “If these guys can start this thing out of their garage, then why can’t we? We’ve got a theater, let’s start a festival.” Well, yes and no. How many Cinderella stories can we have, after all? But Fitzgerald had been to the ball and danced with the prince, and instead of merely being on the ropes he’d climbed them to the top. “So I started a business called Right Angle Studios,” he says. It was a consulting firm that assisted filmmakers, helping them with marketing and distribution strategies and getting their work to film festivals. Because, if you aren’t being seen, who’s going to know if you’re the next Jim Jarmusch or Guillermo del Toro? Of course, nudging others into the public eye isn’t quite the same as making and financing your own pictures. And Fitzgerald wanted to transition back to that. “In 2010, my first documentary came out. It’s called ‘The Back Nine,’ and it was about seeing if it’s possible to become a professional athlete after turning 40. And it’s about golf.” He then went on to direct and/or produce a few other documentaries, including “The Highest Pass” (mountains and motorcycles, not football), “The Milky Way” (breastfeeding, not stargazing), “Woman One,” and “Dance of Liberation.” For some budding filmmakers he became advisor, mentor, guru, because everyone just starting out needs a little help. A guide for the journey “It was around that time that I had a panel discussion with book publisher Michael Wiese. His company has always been the leader in film-related books for film schools.” So Fitzgerald said to Wiese, “Have you ever done a book about the development of social impact movies, filmmaking for change?” “No,” said Wiese, “but that’s a good idea. Why don’t you write a table of contents and a first chapter, and let’s see what it could be about.” 20 Easy Reader / Beach magazine • January 18, 2018

“Within a few weeks I had a book deal,” Fitzgerald says. To a certain extent, his concept for the book drew from Joseph Campbell’s seminal “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a book that examines the mythic-heroic archetype down through the ages, and describes, in a dozen stages or so, just what it is the hero has to encounter as he, or she, combats obstacles before finally reaching the goal, be it the Golden Fleece or a Golden Globe award. I think it’s common knowledge that George Lucas honed in on Campbell’s book as well for his initial vision of “Star Wars,” although the recent “Star Wars” films are only slightly more appealing than the Black Plague. So Fitzgerald condensed the heart and soul of Campbell’s book (for the hero’s quest it’s largely faith and guts) “and applied it to the social impact space and into documentaries. In the last ten years documentaries have evolved. There’s a more interesting flavor and different styles and personalities now, whereas before it was a lot of talking heads, a lot of static camera.” Among the films he cites that meet this criteria, Fitzgerald mentions “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Cove,” “Super Size Me,” and “The Fog of War.” “Filmmaking for Change” is in some ways a how-to book, although the author states early on that while “Social impact films are made with a goal in mind,” he later adds that “One of the best things about the film business is this: There are no rules.” It sounds like we’re in Zen country now, but not really. The last part of Fitzgerald’s book is weighted with case studies or resources, and during our conversation he singles out “Warrior One,” which is about underprivileged girls living in Florida trailer parks later finding themselves trekking up the Andes to Machu Picchu. It’s a film about building leadership and confidence, in this case for youngsters who certainly weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths. “I don’t want the book to just be for people in film school,” Fitzgerald says. “It should be for the average Joe who wants to pick up a camera and tell a story that could make a difference. You don’t need to have worked Fitzgerald cont. on page 27 All Hunter Douglas 20% OFF! Catalina Supreme Paints Redondo Beach 1002 S. Pacific Coast Hwy. 310-540-4456 Manhattan Beach 708 N. Sepulveda Blvd. 310-376-2444 January 18, 2018 • Easy Reader / Beach magazine 21