Monday, May 16, 2016

Reel Inspiration: 10 Years of Movie Blessings

A blast from the past: The Reel Vision Flmmakers Conference. Photo by Wendy Reichenthal.
Recently I happened on to the first review I ever posted on this blog about an empowering little film called “Akeela and the Bee.” Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I posted that first review on the Reel Inspiration blog?

This blog was actually a small aspect of Reel Inspiration. Our mission was to encourage and promote the production and theatrical success of diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire human consciousness. We encouraged filmmakers by hosting the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference, film contests, and by promoting their films through our “Reel Members” e-mail list. The idea was that our members would forward the reviews to their film-loving friends. You know…you tell two friends and they tell two friends and together we create a market for meaningful films. We signed up most of our members at the community screenings of our contest finalists. My favorite was the Family Arts Festival. My kids would help me run the zoetrope activity. Then our volunteers, Michael and Sarah, would take over so we could enjoy the fest! The festival is gone now along with most of the e-mail members. 

This blog wasn’t even up yet when we promoted our first film. It was 2004 and the board was on the lookout for a new indie film, when we got wind of “What the Bleep Do We Know.” It was kind of an odd choice because it wasn’t quite a narrative film. It was kind of a mish-mash of documentary, narrative and animation. But the producer was breaking new ground by approaching managers individually and asking them to screen his film. The film would be promoted entirely through word of mouth and an email campaign. “It won’t cost the theater a dime. What do you have to lose?!” he pitched. 

Founding Members: Wendy, Michelle and Jana.
Wendy designed our logo and the poster above.
Michelle came up with our name! 
We were delighted when we heard that “What the Bleep” was on its way to Tucson. It was just the opportunity we needed to see if our marketing plan could work, so we signed on. We sent out e-mails, we put up posters, and we posted board member Wendy’s review on our make-shift website. I made it a point to tell at least five people a day about the film at the coffee shop where I hung out. I did the same thing at my church on Sundays. Eventually, my pastor asked me about it. He began announcing the screenings at the pulpit. When I stopped keeping track, it had already screened for 39 weeks in Tucson! This metaphysical film was a phenomenon in this new age community.

It hasn’t always been that easy to see the impact of our reviews. There were times I got discouraged because I didn't feel like I was making a difference at all. I had to be reminded that it wasn’t about me, it was about the filmmakers and the movies. Like the time Reel Inspiration was featured on Arizona Illustrated. I had been up all night digging through my closet looking for something that still fit and wouldn’t make me look fat on camera. During the interview a mosquito hovered around me. Loopy from lack of sleep, I unconsciously started scratching the itchy bites. It looked like I had the shakes on camera. Not one of my shinier moments. This gave them ample time to highlight the other Reel Inspiration representatives, including contest finalist Justin Mashouf. They showed a nice clip of his powerful short, “Morning Submission” about why Muslims pray. As a direct result of that segment, two Muslim women wearing hijabs were inspired to attend the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference. 

I am honored to have a platform to promote filmmakers with powerful messages. In 2010 when border issues were really heating up here in Tucson, I received an invitation to the premiere of LuisCarlos Davis’s doc, “389 Miles: Living the Border.” Sensing that his doc could create more understanding of the plight of undocumented immigrants, I encouraged him to screen it as much as possible. I was able to put out a call to the Reel Inspiration community and my facebook friends to host screenings. LuisCarlos became an outspoken advocate for the undocumented, travelling the globe to speak on border issues. (See the entire movie, "389 Miles: Living the Border" for free.)

It hasn’t always been easy to tell if the reviews were reaching anyone. Once I got so discouraged that I stopped writing them for a while. But I actually missed it. It was the films themselves that motivated me to return. "Searching for Sugar Man," (Most Inspiring Film 2012), told the story of  Rodriguez, a Dylan-style rock poet, who disappeared after his one album flopped. Unbeknownst to him, his album became the sound track for apartheid. Just by following his path, he made a huge difference.

Whenever I’m in need of inspiration I can watch Pai’s quest in “Whale Rider” – the movie that set me on my path to start Reel Inspiration. And I am grateful for that journey. To date, I have written 178 articles on films! The Loft Cinema is practically my home away from home. (I saw at least 40 of my "Most Inspiring Films" at the Loft!)  Movies have made such a difference in my life. I especially feel drawn to films that address the challenges of our times. The reviews give me a chance to talk about issues that are important to me. This eventually led to me branching out to a blog on sustainability. Documentaries like “The Anthropologist," and "Ours Is the Land," that I saw at the Arizona International Film Festival, continue to ignite my passion and motivate my work on social justice and sustainability

My first blog review in 2006: "Akeela and the Bee"
Akeela’s spelling coach quotes Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure....As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same."  Let it shine on in films that inspire all of us.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont

Indivisible: Love Knows No Borders” is a great example of how powerful films can be – how a film can change people’s perceptions, open their hearts, and inspire action. I’m delighted to continue a Reel Inspiration tradition by putting a call out to our community. Please, support these brave Dreamers by hosting a screening of “Indivisible” at your club, organization, or anywhere with a movie or TV screen. Find out how to arrange for a screening at:

Interested in being a part of the Reel Inspiration community? If you would like to get reviews e-mailed to you, or suggest a movie to be reviewed, or write one yourself, please, e-mail me at: