In the midst of chaotic circumstances, campus remains all but empty, and many student organizations must rely on Zoom and GroupMe to keep active. Despite the sudden digital shift, several of the University’s most outstanding groups have carried on as normally as possible. Glass Rose Films, Villanova’s own non-profit production company based out of the University’s Social Justice Documentary Program, has been no exception.
On April 10, the group (@glassrosefilms) posted a new, official trailer for its highly-anticipated production, “From the Ground Up.” Despite the changes that have forced students to relocate and activities to be cancelled, the film’s premiere remains scheduled for this Thursday, April 23.
Glass Rose Films comprises 21 students and one faculty advisor who have worked to create a 15-minute documentary short focused on the global issue of clean water access through the lens of a community in Singida, Tanzania. The Villanovan was able to catch up with Michelle Kimura, one of the three producers of the documentary, to learn more about what the company has accomplished this year in anticipation of the big night.
The Villanovan (TV): So first off, how has Glass Rose Films adjusted to working on this from home? Has anything fundamental about production changed since classes went online?
Michelle Kimura (MK): “We’re very fortunate this year, because our directors and editors have been super on top of deadlines and staying on schedule, so nothing has really changed for us, except for that now we are not able to be in a shared space 24/7. All that really means for us is that we have to be better about communicating via text/ zoom / email/ Google Drive. Otherwise, timelines haven’t really been affected at all. We’ve pretty much moved everything remote, including our premiere, for which we’re doing a digital release of our film.”
TV: Could you explain more about the subject matter of the film? What issue are you focused on and where was it filmed?
MK: “Sure. So this year, our documentary is focused on the value of water as a resource and the water crisis. Specifically, “From the Ground Up” provides a localized look at the increasingly dire global water crisis. This past October, myself and 14 other members of the Glass Rose Films crew spent two weeks on the ground in the semi-arid region of Singida, Tanzania. During that time, we filmed the documentary and other multimedia content, while making connections with the villages of Malolo and Jamida, neither of which currently have access to a consistent or safe source of water.”
TV: Is there any kind of personal connection to the water crisis with your team?
MK: “Initially, there was no explicit personal connection within our crew to the water crisis. Our professor visited Malolo in Summer 2019 and recognized that there was an exceptionally important story to be told there, as it pertained to human rights and the water crisis. When we got to the villages of Malolo and Jamida, we were greeted with such hospitality, kindness and love that it was so easy to make such genuine connections with each community. Since we’ve gotten back, I don’t think there has been a single day that we haven’t thought about Malolo and Jamida and the people we met there. They absolutely are at the heart of everything we do as a production company. We are so grateful for them for being so open and willing to organically share their stories with us and allowing those stories to be amplified to a global stage.”
TV: That’s amazing. Did Glass Rose have any specific contacts in Malolo or Jamida before arriving?
MK: “Our partner, the Chris Long Foundation, connected us with an organization called WorldServe International that installs solar powered wells in the semi-arid regions of Tanzania. When our professor visited in the summer of 2019, he connected with WorldServe and was able to visit the village of Malolo that summer. Once we started the Fall 2019 semester, we were in contact with the Chris Long Foundation, updating them on our progress as a production company up until we departed. We worked heavily with our line producers, and we were in constant communication with WorldServe International. Both of the villages of Malolo and Jamida currently do not have access to a clean or consistent water source, and they are both in very remote locations. Without WorldServe and the Chris Long Foundation giving us that access point, we likely wouldn’t have been able to reach these villages and make the most incredible connections.”
TV: What does the Chris Long Foundation do, and how did Glass Rose find it as a partner?
MK: “We worked closely with the Chris Long Foundation’s Waterboys Initiative, which is founded upon the belief that borders do not limit caring about neighbors. Their established clean water initiative, based in Tanzania, most importantly gave us a point of access to connect with local government contacts in Singida, as well as translators through their partner organization, WorldServe International. It was helpful for facilitating our filming process on the ground. Without them, we likely would not have been able to access the villages of Malolo and Jamida, where our entire documentary was filmed. In terms of finding the foundation as a partner, our professor [Mr. Hezekiah Lewis] is well-known within the film and media world. He has connections to the football world as well (he played football at Villanova), so he was the one that started the partnership with the Chris Long Foundation. (Chris Long played in the NFL for 11 seasons.). He went to Villanova for undergrad and then film school at UCLA.”
TV: The films produced by this course each year seem to be very well-known around campus, but could you explain more about the program itself? When is the documentary filmed, and who oversees it all?
MK: “The program is under the Communication Department at the University, officially called the Social Justice Documentary Program. Within that, it breaks into two different classes. This year, the class that focuses on local issues of social justice is taught by John O’Leary and Steve McWilliams. They created Shovelhead Studios (@shovelheadstudios) and decided to focus on veterans' rights. Our class, which focuses on global issues of social justice, is taught by Hezekiah Lewis. Both classes produce a documentary at the end of the year. Besides the geographic focus, my understanding is that the classes work on different production timelines. We typically are traveling the week of and the week after Fall Break, so two weeks total, shooting all, or at least 98% of the footage we use in the documentary.
TV: What is your favorite part of the program and being with Glass Rose?
MK: “I have loved learning all about this process over the past year. As someone who has absolutely no interest in going into production, it’s actually comical that I’m in the role I am in for the class. As a producer, my job is kind of to just be involved in everything, keep everything on schedule, staying on top of things, constantly be thinking of and creating new opportunities for us to thrive and always representing our mission and cause, so I’ve had the opportunity to see and be a part of every part of — even if its just in the most inconsequential way — this process. Throughout it, I’ve learned so much about production, made the best connections with the rest of the crew and truly been able to immerse myself in every step of the process. The connections we made as a crew, and I personally made on the ground, motivate me everyday to do everything in my power to constantly further our mission of raising awareness for the global water crisis and finding creative ways to further our goal to fund two wells — one for Malolo and one for Jamida...As a crew, we fell in love with the people in the villages of Malolo and Jamida; they welcomed us into their families without question, and they so seamlessly became a part of ours. Through this experience, I learned about what it means to be human, and that, along with the various connections I have made and lessons I have learned, has been my favorite part of the process as a whole.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To support Glass Rose Films and its mission from home, tune in to the premiere of “From the Ground Up” this Thursday, April 23, at 8pm EST at www.glassrosefilms.com. For a $5 minimum viewing fee, viewers will receive access to the incredible documentary and “Doc Behind the Doc,”a behind-the-scenes look at how the film was made over the past several months. Afterward, both will be available to be rented at any time on glassrosefilms.com for the same minimum donation of $5. All proceeds will directly fund the construction of two wells in Malolo and Jamida.