An interview with Jane Wells, emmy-nominated filmmaker, journalist, founder and President of 3 Generations, which curates the stories of victims in three minute clips in order to foster awareness of human rights violations that occur worldwide, including our own back yard.
AMFM: You’re an inspiration to others, a lot of people would like to make a difference. How did a woman accomplish this call to action and network to make 3 Generations a movement? There’s always a defining moment when you have a great idea, but how did it get from idea to movement?
Jane: I really do believe that it’s a process, at least it has been for me, I wish someone had suddenly walked up to me with a check for a million dollars and said go out and do your best, but it doesn’t quite happen like that. There’s a series of movements where a decision has to be made about what to do next. I think the pivotal moment for me was when I decided to go to Darfur myself, and then when I cam back from there the next moment was I had borne witness to a genocide now what do I do? So the next thing was, well I’ll write about it, now what do I do, what is the responsibility of what I see? The next was to make the film “The Devil Came on Horseback,” and talk about what we had seen and what had we done. After that it was “now what do I do next?” what about the other human rights abuses? What about the survivors from the Rwanden Genocide, 13 years later?
So through a series of stages like that, go on to the next pivotal moment, so it’s progressed for me, I wanted to start 3 generations because I was very committed to the idea of storytelling, and I wanted to explore different ways to be a story telling organization and use words and video and film, to create a media organization that used this medium, it was important for me to have this as a vessel.
AMFM: You are mobilizing documentary filmmakers by curating films from all over the world?
Jane: No, we are interested in partnerships but most of the films are made by 3 generations and my colleagues have made, curating the stories more than the film
AMFM: So through the power of storytelling you wish to create an awareness, and through the awareness, change should start to happen naturally?
Jane: Yes I think I see film and video as a call to action. I have observed The NGO’s and activists on the ground who are working on the ground are rarely filmmakers, so they need infrastructure, organization and partnerships to help them get the story out. The larger organizations might have a video unit within them, but creating calls to action for the general public.. there are a lot of amazing grassroots organizations on the front line …I liked the idea of creating a way to draw attention to them. I go out to the frontlines myself, albeit briefly, see who’s doing what. Then I come back and say, if you’re interested in water and sanitation in Darfur then THIS is a great organization, if you want to help young girls who are working in the sex trade in the Bronx, then THIS is a good organization. If you care about advocacy on this condition in Washington DC then go to Polaris Project or whomever.
That’s what happened to me, when I first when out to Darfur in Africa people said oh I want to do something what can I do, so I think we did it quite well and effectively with “The Devil Came on Horseback.” we had partner organizations that were highlighted in the film and at the end of the film. And that’s a lot of work as a producer, when I talked about the film afterwards, to continue to have that type of relationship, partnering with organizations and curating the stories that benefitted the people that are really really engaged with the issues, people who were doing the really tough work at the frontlines but weren’t able to come back and talk about what they were doing to a wider audience
AMFM: So you are giving smaller organizations, that are trying to make a difference, the real soldiers in the battles, you are giving them a voice.
AMFM: Does this mean the concept of cultural and self regeneration is simply a concept of awareness? If we are aware of these things, then another part of ourselves, the better part, should be shocked and aghast and try to do something about it. Is that correct?
Jane: Yes and also the survivors and activists in the rebuilding process can use arts and culture to talk about the experiences. There are different stages, the crisis stage where triage is the best thing that can be done, but maybe a decade or so later, the people who have had those experiences can reflect on them in a more artistic way.
For instance, talking about child trafficking, somebody like Rachel Loyd, who runs an organization called GEMS here in New York City, has just published her autobiography called “Girls Like Us” which by the way I reviewed on Huffington Post, you can find my review.
She’s been out of the life for 15 years now, and runs a very successful organzation, she’s able to after a period of time look back, reflect on her experiences and share in a really good book, by any objectives standardsshe wrote a very good book, she wrote a true page turner. So I would say that’s a form of cultural regeneration. She’s not only moving forward in her work as an adjutant and service provider, but she’s moving forward in her life as a creative soul and being who can express herself through writing and literature
That’s a book that was published in April that she’s written in her mid thirties that she couldn’t have written when she was living the life and “out there.”
AMFM: Yes, it’s one thing to talk about organized atrocity across the world, in a foreign country like Darfur but it’s another to find it in your own backyard.
AMFM:So what has 3 Generations accomplished so far?
Jane: Look, I think when you look at the number of people who saw the devil came on horseback, which eventuall got into the millions, you have to feel that something you’ve done has reached that many people. When it was first shown commercially in New York City, I got an email from a woman who said she was very interested in story telling and she got involved as a volunteer and she’s now the chairperson of the board of 3 generations. I would say that That was a wonderful thing to happen to me to have her involved and getting egaged in growing the orgainzation
More recently , we made a 2 and half minute video of sex traficcking in the US> because I wwas playing around with the idea of could we tell this story in under 3 minutes, we showed it at a film festival. I looked at Youtube the other day and saw that nearly 200,000 people have looked at that, and most of them in the last two weeks. I was amazed because it’s a short little video with no celebrities in it and a very difficult subject. Clearly it’s starting to make an impact – and a lot of people didn’t like it.
What was interesting to me was the dialogue about the content and the subject, there’s a lot of controversy and it seems to be around the people that I would say are the that are the target audience, that having sex with young children is a violent and abusive thing to do. For some reason that idea really annoyed some of the people on youtube. And then there were people who annoyed by their comments.
AMFM: They were going back and forth on Youtube?
Jane: Yes. Over the years I’ve had some really nice emails, some life-affirming ones from people who’s stories we’ve told.
This is different, and yet it doesn’t distress me because I think it shows how we can use the power of film and video to get to the place where people are really uncomfortable with this subject.
AFMFM: And so they should be.
Jane: Some of them were very clearly disturbing comments written by what I would characterize as disturbed people, and I didn’t respond to them personally but others did.
That shows you are really getting through to the right people. Not the people that are activists and are already involved, but others that are shocked and angered.
AMFM: The value is in the anonymity of the internet, the twisted minds that are out there, they can speak their mind and as horrible as it is to look at their comments, it’s also helpful to understand the mindset and realize what has to be done. It’s part of the process of understanding how and why.
Jane: Yes and that is the target audience of this particular subject, so I feel pretty good about that, actually.
AMFM: Where do you see 3 Generations going from here?
Jane: We’re going to continue to collect the short survivor stories, that sort of storytelling form we’ve been trying to pioneer on 3 Generations, and we’re also working on a feature documentary on Child trafficking in the united states.
My goal is to do both in parallel. One is to keep working on shorts and videos that are 3 minutes or less as we build this library of survivor stories. At the same time, I’m recognizing that there are audiences
in different places where a feature, or a long film, can have a diffent sort of impact.
AMFM: I think what you’re doing is fantastic and I applaud you.