Arts January 15, 2023

Storytelling Goddess

A charge to do the work, and then some

When hearing Naomi McDougall Jones talk about her latest projects, it’s nearly impossible to not soak in the residual inspiration radiating from her passionate and creative energy. An award-winning storyteller, changemaker, and, most recently, a certified death doula, Naomi has her hand and heart, no doubt, in a variety of exhilarating projects. “I feel so expansively excited about so many things right now,” she says.

With two feature films in the works, a new book on the horizon (inspired in part by her time at the Hemingway House), and now embarking on the next chapter of her women-in-film investment fund, “The 51 Fund,” Naomi has her foot firmly on the gas of her career.

Naomi and her husband, Stephen, relocated to Sun Valley in 2020 after COVID-19 made remote work more of a reality. She first visited the Wood River Valley four years prior while speaking at Conversations with Exceptional Women. Naomi then returned for a more extended stint as the first writer-in-residence at the Hemingway House, a program managed by The Community Library. Her time in Sun Valley reignited a deep connection to mountain town living, and she felt pulled to plant roots in Idaho.

“I grew up in Colorado, near Aspen,” she says. “The landscape here feels like home to me. I had this visceral feeling of being here, like my body recognized it. I knew what all the bugs were and the wildlife and the plants. There is something about recognizing and knowing what everything is that felt deeply healing for me after living in New York City for 13 years.”

Now a full-time resident, Naomi is diving into a collection of new projects and continuing her advocacy work anchored by the Smoky Mountain Range as her backdrop. “I think my work has deepened because I have such a greater ability to be quiet here,” says Naomi. “Here, there is this insane thing of having a small-town community and this incredibly cosmopolitan world-class arts and performances, like Pulitzer Prize winners doing free talks.”

Courtesy photo by Naomi McDougall Jones


Naomi describes it as world-class culture balanced with peace.

A filmmaker at her core, Naomi is known for her award-winning 2014 Indie feature film Imagine I’m Beautiful and the following feature film Bite Me. The latter was acclaimed at festivals and screenings held on a tour across the country. “I continue to work on my own films as a filmmaker,” she says. “I have two feature films we are hoping will film next year.”

The first, Hammond Castle, is a magical realism film about a seven-month-pregnant woman locked in the castle overnight. Naomi says they are in talks with A-list actors and are excited to film in the actual Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The second, slated to be filmed in Arco, Idaho, is a psycho-sexual thriller that takes place in a defunct powerplant. Naomi describes it as “an exciting, artistically-grounded project.”

Whether writing screenplays for film or authoring books, Naomi is a storyteller. One big part of that calling has been using her voice to shed light on the injustices for marginalized communities in the film industry, particularly women and people
of color.

“I sort of fell backwards into this whole thing,” she says. “When I became a filmmaker, the sexism was so blatant.”

Her career shifted to activism in the pre-MeToo era after she vocalized the flagrant sexism that she and her fellow women in film experienced. For example, she described being a part of an all-female production team, sharing comments that they needed a male on the team, so they seemed more trustworthy, particularly with money.

“When my first film came out, I started talking about what we experienced during Q&As after screenings,” Naomi says. “I thought people ought to know. I didn’t realize at the time that you were putting your career in jeopardy if you said the sexist experiences out loud. I was somewhat naively willing to say these things, so I was flown all over the place to talk about it.”

Naomi gave a TEDx talk on the issues and what to do about them called “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Hollywood.”

The talk went viral, and her work in advocacy picked up steam.

Now, Naomi runs The 51 Fund alongside the former CFO of the City of Chicago. The goal is to continue to upset the status quo and get more female voices told through financing. “The 51 Fund is my inside strategy to try and get as many women as possible into the existing system and funding their projects,” she says. “But what I’ve really come to realize is that the whole system, not just the storytelling, has been shaped by the white male perspective. It’s the process by which the stories are made and the systems that deliver that story to audiences.”

She wrote the impactful The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood. She is now working on her next activism-focused project, Regenerative Creation Cohort. The cohort is a yearlong program she and an indigenous storyteller in Canada created for 10 students that focuses on how stories are created and delivered to audiences across all mediums. “It is looking at how we truly decolonize and take out the patriarchy and white supremacy and how do we do that in a regenerative way—in a non-extractive, and non-toxic way that could really heal society.”

McDougall Jones (left) in “Imagine I’m Beautiful” / Courtesy photo by Naomi McDougall Jones

“How can we really start to do the work to build an entirely new system where inclusivity and regeneration are baked into the DNA?” she continues.

Bringing her experience as an Idahoan full circle, Naomi is now exploring her activism through the lens of her time as writer-in-residence at the Hemingway House.

“I went on a wild journey with Ernest Hemingway, which is what inspired part of this book,” she says.

It wasn’t the intention, however.

Naomi describes the first part of her book as unpacking the journey with Hemingway and watching the world navigate the Black Lives Matter movement while looking at where the country currently sits. This next book is taking a deep dive into examining all of it.

“What does it mean to be a white woman in this movement, to be at the place of oppression and oppressor?” she asks. “The third part of the book is about moving to Idaho and trying to find my way forward in politics. How does one synthesize these movements through the body and mind of one human being?”

Taking on what she felt pulled to next might seem a bit obscure. But finding oneself, or transitioning into that next chapter, seems to be interwoven into Naomi’s ethos: navigating transformation. A death doula just seems to fit, somehow. While also working with the actively dying, Naomi is also applying for the death process work with people who are not necessarily in that ending chapter. This winter, she began offering a three-month course for 10 students to prepare for their own death by going through a ritual death.

“Whether they are going through a personal transformation or looking to get comfortable with their own death, it’s [about] the process of transformation,” she says.

Whether through her films, activism, and now her transformative approach to death, the mountains seem to suit Naomi McDougall Jones well. We can’t wait to witness what she takes on next.

This article appears in the Winter 2022 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.