The fabric of history is made up of stories. The earliest humans shared stories through oral tradition. Eventually the stories were drawn on the walls of caves. Soon they were written down and today they are immortalized on film and video. While early stories told our history, today stories are used for a different purpose. While they still tell our history, they are also powerful mediums for social change.
Filmmakers Jenna Cavelle and Kelley Kali each, during their own journey of life, grasped this power of filmmaking. Recently they produced and directed Jagged Mind, a film that debuted on Hulu on June 15, 2023. While this is a remarkable achievement by any measure, this is just one part of what is remarkable about these partners in film.
On Monday June 12, 2023 at the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Oakland Park, filmmaker, writer, poet and all around renaissance man Yanatha Desourvre led a fireside chat with Cavelle and Kali. These two intelligent, talented and creative women gave us an intimate look into the journey that brought them together as well as how they are bringing diversity to the world of film.
The Accidental Filmmaker
Jenna Cavelle didn’t start out wanting to be a filmmaker but she did start out with a passion for social change. At UC Berkeley she studied environmental issues in third world countries. Then at one point she looked at environmental issues a little closer to home. She discovered that the Paiute Indians of Owens Valley were struggling to reclaim water rights. Their fight had gone on for 75 years.
When Cavelle arrived on the scene they were no closer to a resolution. She took up their cause and decided to make a film about their struggle. When Cavelle was in Oakland Park to talk about Jagged Mind, she shared that in the process of making Paya: The Water Story of the Paiute she made sure that Paiute voice was heard and not her own. The making of Paya made her realize that her instrument for change could be film.
Soon after she enrolled in USC’s Media Institute for Social Change (MISC). She chose MISC because their mission closely aligned to hers : using the power of filmmaking to effect social change. While there she met Jagged Mind’s director, Kelley Kali.
The Deliberate Filmmaker
Kali studied anthropology and minored in film studies at Howard University. In a commercial Kali filmed for VISA, she shared that her first opportunity to help on a film was helping a film crew while she was on an archaeological dig. While she was already minoring in film that experience made it clear that she wanted to make a career out of filmmaking. She knew it that might be an unorthodox pursuit for a woman of color, but that was not going to stop her. Au contraire, that became her raison d’être. With path before her clear, Kali began film school at USC.
Kali had a visited Haiti a number of times. During her visits she learned about an orphanage that took in children but also prostituted them. For her thesis project, Kali directed Lalo’s House, a film which unmasked the child sex trafficking happening at the orphanage. Kali won acclaim for the film, but perhaps the most important thing that happened at USC was meeting Cavelle.
A Tribe With a Cause
At the fireside chat both Cavelle and Kali affirmed that they felt an instant connection. They knew they had met their tribe. They were united in cause to effect social change through film.
Cavelle is now an executive producer at 20th Century Digital, a division of Hulu. This division is geared toward giving diverse creatives a place in which to share their talent and their showcase their vision on screen to a wider audience.
Cavelle, while a fantastic creative mind according to Kali, feels that as an executive producer she is in the right place to execute her mission for social change. She told to the little group at the fireside chat that she feels her mission is not to be the voice but to be the facilitator for the voices. Because of this, Cavelle helped Kali her craft her pitch for Jagged Mind.
As a result, Kali’s idea for filming the story in a non-traditional setting and telling it through the eyes of young black, gay woman, won over the other producers of 20th Century Digital. Soon after, Kali was in Little Haiti, Miami making the film
Jagged Mind: The Film
The story of Jagged Mind in a nutshell is a story of toxic love. The main character, Billie, starts to feel like she is losing her mind. She soon discovers that her girlfriend Alex is using magic to restart time so she can win Billie over for ever after. Billie, with the help of Papa Juste and Rose, discovers Alex’s treachery and eventually takes control of the magic stone effectively ending the story.
It is not a new story by any means. It is a retelling of a story in a new setting, little Haiti, and with a lesbian couple rather than another run-of-the-mill heterosexual couple. It misses the mark as to being a film that will be uniquely memorable. However, what is important is the diversity in and behind the film.
The film opens the door to different voices and different visions while at the same time underscoring how alike we all really are. This opening up is a work in progress, but it has begun. The trail that it will blaze for others is what will be truly memorable.
The Currents of Change
Stories on film have the power touch thousands, millions of people, to transform ideas and engender empathy for our fellow humans. Producer Jenna Cavelle and Kelly Kali are united in using this power for social change.
Their fireside chat at the Haitian Chamber of Commerce elucidating their mission was truly a treat for all those who attended. It gave us an intimate look into the world of filmmaking and the currents of diversity and social change that are becoming a more powerful force in within that storytelling medium.
What stories will be told and who will tell them is anybody’s guess. Nevertheless, what is certain is that we will definitely see more from Cavelle and Kali, and along the way we will learn a lot more about each other as other voices are lifted up and allowed to be heard.