June 18, 2012 By Noelle Knell
A group of Seattle documentarians is getting inspiration from an unusual source: the federal government. The project, entitled We *heart* Government, aims to put together three short films singing the praises of government agencies that typically don’t get a lot of positive buzz.
Film editor Dina Guttmann, one of four members of the Flying Ninja Story Collective behind the project, is quick to admit that the idea has been met with some skepticism.
“A friend of mine actually asked if I was being facetious,” Guttmann said with a laugh in an interview with Government Technology. “I had to assure her that this was a serious project.”
Kickstarting a Film Project
The group’s strategy for generating resources for its endeavor included the popular arts crowdsourcing site Kickstarter. While none of the members had used the site before, they viewed it as an opportunity to extend their audience beyond their own social circles.
And the strategy paid off. Kickstarter selected the We *heart* Government documentary project as one of its staff picks for the Seattle region, extending the idea’s reach even further. Supporters pledged monetary contributions as low as $1 for the chance to weigh in on which agencies would be featured.
Enthusiastic endorsements poured in from as far away as Australia. “I think what Kickstarter did is it created a community of people who are interested in this project,” Guttmann explained. “We got some wonderful ideas and some wonderful emotional support, and that was pretty amazing.”
The initial funding goal of $2,500 was met and exceeded. The injection of capital allows the group to supplement its filmmaking talents with a professional cinematographer and other ancillary services to help raise the quality of the finished films.
The initial impetus for the documentaries was the experience of collective member and video director/producer Cassy Soden, whose father, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, receives services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Along with the comprehensive medical care he gets at VA hospitals, Soden appreciates the small services that go along with this care that often go unheralded.
Valet service at VA hospitals, for example, ensures that Soden and her father are met with a smiling attendant who parks their car, thus shortening the trip into the facility they are visiting.
Guttmann’s pick for the subject of film No. 2 is the much-maligned U.S. Postal Service (USPS). She finds post office services to be convenient and reliable, and often much less expensive than comparable private services from UPS and FedEx.
She rejects the sentiment that the financially challenged government enterprise is obsolete in a society moving toward electronic communication. “There are these very special occasions in our lives that somehow deserve more impact than an email can give,” Guttmann added.
Writer and project partner Amanda Vail shares this fondness of the USPS. “There's definitely a romance tied up with sending letters and that dates back hundreds of years,” she said, recalling the excitement of sending and receiving letters from faraway friends as a child.
The subject of the third film, influenced by Kickstarter contributors, will be the National Park Service.
The Flying Ninja Story Collective hopes to shoot all footage in August and complete the films by November. While the films themselves aren’t political, by releasing these films during the presidential election season, the creators hope to grab people’s attention at a time when they're thinking about government.
The group is looking into upcoming film festivals as avenues to get further exposure for their documentaries. Guttmann, Vail and Soden are joined by artist and graphic designer Jenna Abts, who together make up the Flying Ninja Story Collective.
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