Jonathan Isaac Jackson

NOFS spoke to a local filmmaker alum from our own mentor program who is making waves with his new film Greenlight.

“Greenlight” has been picked up by PBS online film festival from July 11th- July 29th. Viewers can vote for their favorite film by facebook or twitter using #PBSolff hashtag.

Jonathan, can you tell us what/who are your inspirations for your film
For this particular film, Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” and Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” were heavy inspirations. In general, I try to add elements of Jean-Luc Godard and Stanley Kubrick to every film in a small way, so the black and white aspects come from my romanization of French New Wave and Italian Neo Realism. The film was originally made for “Project Greenlight”, so we only had a 3 minute window to create something original. We felt it had to be quick and to the point, so the look and tone was something that was truly important to accomplish with this film.

What has been your biggest block in the industry and your biggest break in the industry thus far?
It’s hard to get support from the film community here (NOLA) as a filmmaker of color who creates narratives. In conversation, it’s talked about as if it’s understood, but still, it’s almost impossible to make a short, quality film. Even when trying to organize a specific group of filmmakers of color, there is still no help. We have to put everything on our own backs and shoulders, and that makes it impossible. Most conversations with local organizations about supporting filmmakers of color are facetious. So, its really hard to hold down a full time job, pay bills, and still have the resources to create new films that are watchable. I have yet to really “break in the industry” thus far, but “Greenlight*” has been selected by both HBO and PBS, so that’s definitely a good thing.

As a New Orleans resident, how did the community influence your art?
The influences have been good and bad. The musicians in this city are truly talented, and I am influenced by them daily. But, we live in state where educational programs are being cut, as well as social programs that help minorities, you can’t help but take a negative and turn it into something inspirational. So between the good and the very bad, New Orleans is a place where inspiration and influence is always prevalent.

Do you enjoy writing stories or filming them more?
I don’t consider myself a good writer. It’s something I’m constantly working on. But I do write a lot, and there is a joy of conceiving a story that will one day be made into something you can show folks. Filming is definitely more fun. It’s more of a social interaction and more of a collaboration. Everyone is excited and on the same page (usually).

Can you tell us your process after completing the film to it now being in the PBS Film Festival Online?
After we completed “Greenlight”, it was submitted to Project Greenlight. It was selected into the second round, which was a total surprise to us. Ironically, I was selected for Emerging Voices a week or two later, and was able to spend time with Effie Brown, who was a mentor in Emerging Voices. I didn’t know at the time that she was a producer for the film made in Project Greenlight, and I never mentioned it to her. The irony of me meeting her, the subject matter of my film, and her diversity argument with Matt Damon was totally ironic, but I’m glad it happened. We didn’t make it past that second round, and officially premiered “Greenlight*” at the New Orleans Film Festival. We submitted it to LPB after seeing a post from New Orleans Film Society, and were selected by PBS after LPB sent them 10 other films.

Film shorts can sometimes allow more creativity. Can you explain your films color transitions and perhaps other cinematic devices you used for the themes in your film.
The story in “Greenlight*” is the story of an actor who is frustrated with the types of roles he’s offered as an African American. I chose to shoot the film in black and white, but wanted to also add an element of surrealism to the film. I chose to shoot the “reality” in black and white, as a metaphor for reality, and the flashback/flash forward scenes in artificial colors, being a metaphor for our dreams. Simply, we dream in color, but live in black and white.

How do you think diversifying Hollywood will change the industry for filmmakers?
I don’t look at it changing Hollywood for filmmakers. It’s more so for audiences. I am scared that Hollywood believes that by selecting a few, it speaks for all of us. I’m scared that we, our skin and our faces, will be used as a marketing tools. Diversity means equality, and equality means 50/50, not 20/80, at least when it comes to minorities in general. There is no reason for minorities, which includes women and LGBTQ, to be so low in representation in Hollywood in 2016. I don’t think we’ll get to a point where filmmakers of color can fail over and over again, and still be allowed the funding to try again. We are in a place in history where we have come far with race relations, but still have issues with one another. The question is will Hollywood, Hollywood South, or indie cinema allow filmmakers of color to tell the stories from their perspective, or will we just have a perspective of those who are not intricately involved in these situations?

Do you think filmmakers have a responsibility to culture?
I feel we do, but not to a point that a minority filmmaker has to only tell stories about themselves. I’d like to see a black male or LGBTQ filmmaker direct a Star Wars film. If Spielberg can brilliantly adapt a book about a black woman being oppressed by society and men in the 1930’s, why can’t a woman of color brilliantly adapt “Ready Player One”? I personally feel I have a responsibility to my culture, but I don’t base any idea, write any story, or create characters of color because I feel I have to. I do so because I feel that if I don’t, our stories won’t be told from our perspective.

**Do you have any other projects you are looking forward to? **
I’m writing a story based off of Black Lives Matter, rooted in the story of the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. I’m hoping this could be my first feature. I started working on it a few months ago, but with the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, I feel that I needed to create something to channel my frustrations as a filmmaker of color. I have been creating these short films without any outside funding to concentrate on the process itself, so I’m currently finding a way to write it without having to rely on anything outside of the resources I have now, which is complicated. But I’ve given myself a few months to figure it out, and I’m sure I will find a way to create a film that will not only be a reflection of my views of our society, good and bad, but also something that is entertaining at face value.

Watch Greenlight. for the PBS Online Film Festival and make sure to cast your vote using #PBSolff by July 29th