Homewood Science Center's "HF Women in Documentary Filmmaking" program on Wednesday, June 20, will premiere Eliana D'Astici's documentary film, "March through Generations," a look at three generations and their stand on women's issues.
The film's title describes not only the story she tells, but how the Homewood-Flossmoor High School student's film got made: Two generations of documentary filmmakers collaborating to tell the story of three generations of local women joining a worldwide protest.
The free event at HSC, 18022 Dixie Highway, is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the center's Michael Wexler Theater. It will also include the local debut of Anne Colton's documentary, "Jordanville," which was recently picked up by the Public Broadcasting Service and is now showing on PBS stations around the nation.
Colton and the science center were instrumental in helping Eliana turn her family's participation in the January 2017 Women's March in Washington, D.C., into a full-fledged documentary film.
Eliana went to Washington with her mother, grandmother, aunt and cousins, all of whom wanted to make a statement about the election and political views of President Donald Trump. She was armed with a camcorder she'd gotten for Christmas and planned to film the event, but she thought it would only result in a few YouTube clips.
A month later, the project took a new direction when Eliana attended the first Girls STEAM Ahead event hosted by HSC. The luncheon offers networking opportunities for middle and high school girls and professional women in STEAM fields.
Eliana heard that one of the women at the event was a documentary filmmaker. She introduced herself to Colton and described the Women's March video she'd taken.
"When Eliana came up to me and was talking so passionately about her film, it got me interested," Colton said. "I remember when I was her age. I would love to have had a mentor.
"That was the whole purpose of Girls STEAM Ahead. Honestly, I've gotten every job I've had through friends and networking."
The two started meeting, and Colton urged Eliana to craft the video into a documentary film. One of her early suggestions was that Eliana interview Teresa Shook of Hawaii, the woman whose Facebook post help instigate what became a world-wide protest event.
Eliana said her first reaction was reluctance.
"I thought, 'There's no way a 14-year-old can talk to the founder of the march,'" she said. "But Anne said, 'Don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone.' The next thing I know, I'm Skyping with the founder of the Women's March."
Eliana said Colton coached her on how to interview people. They developed a list of questions in preparation for the meeting with Shook.
"My heart was beating so fast the entire time," Eliana said. "It ended up being more of a conversation than an interview. Once we got to talking it was really nice."
Colton said Eliana showed good instincts during the interview, knowing when to use prepared questions and when to let the conversation unfold.
"That's how documentaries work," Colton said. "You don't make the film. The film reveals itself to you."
Next, Eliana interviewed her family members who attended the march, and that's where the heart of the film can be found, the "generations" in the title. Colton said the result is a real sense of intimacy. She said viewers will feel like they really get to know the people in the film.
"When they got to talking about something they were passionate about, they would smile and their eyes would light up. It was something so amazing to watch. They are talking about the women's movement and the election. their opinions. that was the best part," Eliana said.
She said she realized at the event that she couldn't really capture the story of the march.
"People are telling the story of the march. I'm telling the story of how it was for me and my family and how it changed us," she said.
Getting video of the event and interviews with sources was the first part of the project. Then came the laborious part. Eliana said she transcribed all the interviews, which was time consuming but valuable. After that came the editing process, creating the flow of the story and incorporating music. Colton's husband, Bob, provided original music for the project.
Although the production part was hard, Eliana said she enjoyed learning new techniques from Colton. She also brought in technical knowledge she got from taking a news broadcasting class at H-F.
The editing task required more discipline, she said, but it was something she learned to enjoy.
"The hardest part is forcing yourself to sit down and edit. Once I'm editing, I'm in the zone," she said.
Eliana said she has been interested in video storytelling since she was very young, and often would write scripts and play director on projects with her friends.
She said she was grateful for the guidance she got from Colton and felt she had made great strides in her skills. Some of the lessons she has taken from their work together includes being more assertive in trying new things and taking seriously the craft of filmmaking.
"Anybody can go out and film a march, but it takes a lot of perseverence to edit it together, to go beyond the limits to create something," she said.
Colton, for her part, said she came to filmmaking "late," at the age of 19.
She discovered film when she was in college studying restaurant management. She needed to sign up for another course.
"I literally flipped through my course book," she said. "The first thing I pointed to was nuclear physics. I'm like, OK, I'm going to call a mulligan. The next one I did was cinematography. Within two months I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. It was like a light went on."
Colton has shared her work widely in the Homewood-Flossmoor community. She's worked for local businesses and donated her services to a wide range of non-profit causes, especially those related to music and the arts.
The deal with PBS for "Jordanville" has been a big boost for her career and was a factor she cited when she resigned from the Homewood Board of Trustees recently. The film recounts the glory days of a small town basketball star. The story looks almost stereotypical at first, but there is a darker element that emerges.
She said she was impressed with Eliana's talent and passion and enjoyed providing support. She noted that her role was as a mentor, offering suggestions and ideas, but all the decisions were Eliana's.
A question-and-answer session with Colton and Eliana will follow the showing of their films.
Girls STEAM Ahead courts future leaders, innovators (March 5, 2018)