Six Filmmakers Join Forces to Illuminate the Lives of Vulnerable Families

December 3, 2013

The Center for Strategic Communications (CSC) has selected six acclaimed Seattle-area filmmakers to participate in its new Film & Family Homelessness Project. The filmmakers will collaborate to create four different animated films that will tell the stories of the thousands of Washington families who are homeless or living in poverty.  

The new Film Fellows are Heather Ayres, Drew Christie, Laura Cronin, Amy Enser, Neely Goniodsky, and Sihanouk Mariona. They were chosen from more than 50 applicants because of their compelling story ideas and impressive body of work, said project director Barry Mitzman, professor of strategic communications and director of the CSC. The filmmakers will employ a variety of animation styles, including stop motion, erasure animation, digital cut-outs, compositing and traditional animation techniques, to create an all-animated collection of short films that will work both as a package and on their own.

“This may be the first time in the country that so many accomplished filmmakers have been invited to address the largely hidden issue of family homelessness,” said Mitzman. “Because all the films will be animated, the filmmakers will have more freedom to explore creative and artistic storytelling techniques, while respecting the sensitivities of the families whose stories are being shared.  

“Also, we expect that these films will draw audiences who are interested in fresh and exciting uses of film and digital storytelling,” he said.

During the selection process, Mitzman said, reviewers saw a natural fit between several of the storytelling approaches, which led to this configuration of Fellows and films:

1. Heather Ayres and Sihanouk Mariona plan to contrast conversations among mothers and among their children about the challenges of homelessness.  Ayres is an award-winning writer/director who has worked with 911 Media Arts, KCTS (Seattle’s public television station) and PBS.  Mariona is an Emmy award-winning stop-motion animator, with work in both television production and feature films.

2. Amy Enser and Drew Christie will illustrate the viewpoint of a teenager in a homeless family, highlighting the difficulties of both being a teen and being homeless. Enser has been a writer/director/editor in the Seattle area since 2004, focusing on collaborative and diverse projects to help build and strengthen the film community as a whole.  Christie is an animator, illustrator and filmmaker whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair.

3. Laura Jean Cronin will visualize prospective buyers walking through an empty home, all the while seeing the family who once lived there and the moments that led to them losing their home. Cronin is an award-winning filmmaker, an accomplished artist and a current producer at Reel Grrls who has also created numerous community-conscious, mission-driven videos under the banner Pound Pictures.

4. Neely Goniodsky's film will showcase the cycle of a family falling into homelessness and how they can move out of it, if a compassionate, supportive community and resources are in place. Goniodsky has produced and directed 16 animated short films, most of which have been screened at international festivals around the world.

The selection committee included representatives from both the filmmaking and family homelessness community.  

The filmmakers will attend three full-day workshops at Seattle University led by film industry mentors and family homelessness experts.  Each Film Fellows team will then create a short film in winter 2014.  The goal is to screen the four films during the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) as part of a collaboration between Seattle University and SIFF.  

Each Fellow will receive a grant of $8,000.  Seattle University students from the Digital Design, Film Studies and other programs will work with the filmmakers as production assistants.

The Film & Family Homelessness Project is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

More information on the Film & Family Homelessness Project is available at this link or from Lindy Boustedt.

The Center for Strategic Communications is a part of the Communication Department in the College of Arts and Sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in Seattle University, offers 42 major and 37 minor undergraduate degrees and 6 master's degrees.