Arts July 10, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

Documentarian Lori Joyce exposes Idaho and beyond.

When Lori Joyce decided to follow her heart into storytelling through film, she didn’t take the traditional route of film school, a swim with the sharks in Hollywood, a home in the California hills . . .

Instead, while reporting television entertainment news, she stayed late to act as an understudy in the bowels of editing bays, pondering how to reconcile her working life with something that sated her need to change people’s lives.

“What was going on in front of the camera was all so superficial and, in the end, unimportant,” she recalls.

It was also the ’80s and Joyce remembers that particular time as a moment of self-questioning and wondering what happened to the seemingly forgotten idealism of the ’60s, when she and others were so captured by the passion of the peace movement.

“It was something that happened to a lot of us,” she says. “We asked, ‘What are we doing?’”

Joyce’s answer was to make documentaries that aligned with her strong beliefs and values. Among them are The Journey of Sacagawea, which aired on public television and received an Emmy nomination. Although she now has a number of films under her belt, and a Peabody award, the film remains her favorite.

Joyce “felt a connection to Sacagawea throughout the making of the documentary. She was 16 years old with a newborn baby and 31 men. That is amazing to me.”

Joyce also feels a strong connection to Native American stories in general.

“Maybe it’s because I have a little bit of Cherokee,” she reasons. “But it was so interesting to be able to speak to the Hidatsa, the Shoshone and the Nez Perce.”

“I worked with Lori Joyce as director on The Journey of Sacagawea,” says Alan Austin, Idaho Public Television videographer. “She did an incredible job of telling that story. There was quite a bit of research involved. It was important to tell of the Lewis and Clark expedition from a different point of view. Lori told it from the girl’s point of view and it was very meaningful and in-depth.”

In her first film, The Truth About Papa, about Ernest Hemingway, is what sealed her connection to Sun Valley. After working in Texas and living in Boulder, Colorado, and Boise, she decided to make Hailey her home.

From documenting the historical journey of Sacagawea, one amazing woman, to the making of a documentary about present-day women who are making history, the filmmaking journey of Lori Joyce has been organic, with one film igniting the spark of the idea for the next, and always with her heart and soul leading the way. This brings her back to why she has chosen the Sun Valley area to live.

“I was going through some pictures and found one of me in front of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Sun Valley taken in the ’80s, when I was doing a documentary about him,” she recounts.

She remembers coming to Sun Valley for shoots and crying when she had to leave. While she can’t explain it, she just felt that there was something within her that she had to honor.

“Now, I feel like I’ve come full circle.”

 Since the move, which takes her around the state and the globe, she continues to make films about emotional and personal topics like domestic violence, mental illness and youth.

“Creatively, they (the stories) just got better,” she says of her growing repertoire of subjects. Joyce’s eye for how to tell a story and what makes people tick has always distinguished her path to success, about which she is humble.

She formed her non-profit company, Idanha Films, and began the work of her heart.

Her 1985 documentary, The Arms Race Within, about the nuclear train that was crossing the country and the people trying to stop it, put her on the path of making two more documentaries about the subject of non-violence: The Healing of Brian Wilson, which evolved from one man’s reaction to The Arms Race Within and his journey to more involvement in divining peace. In Remembrance of Martin is a tribute to the late peace-seeking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She won the esteemed Peabody Award for her film Hearts and Minds: Teens and Mental Illness.

In the ’90s, her work would hit its most personal peak yet as she watched helplessly as her eldest daughter made a series of poor life choices that resulted in her becoming a victim of domestic violence.

It was a private hell and a personal epiphany. Joyce says she was stricken with the realization that she had gotten things backwards.

Previously, she had thought if there were peace in the world, then everything would be all right. In reality, it became evident to her, if there were to be peace in the world, peace needed to be taught in our personal lives and our relationships. From this was born Shattered Lives, which documented the ripple effects of domestic violence.

Shattered Lives not only challenged her emotionally, but financially; it was difficult to get funding.

She had to do everything on a shoestring to get it made, including recycling tapes and enjoining contractors to work on deferred billing.

“It was crazy,” she recalls. “I was doing whatever it took to get it done. Domestic violence is a subject that no one wants to talk about, so no one was going to give me money to make a film about that. One thing about me, though, is if I start a film, I’m going to finish it.”

Fundraising to make her vision come to life is Joyce’s least favorite aspect of her work, though she’s been trying to change her attitude.

“When the money doesn’t come when you need it, and you can’t shoot when you want to, you start to question your worthiness,” she says. >>>



She has to smile and endure people who don’t know the difference between a documentary and a feature and who ask her for a script as a prerequisite for funding. But her gratitude and resulting work have been rewarded critically and financially and she finally has been able to sign on with a producer’s representative, who is currently at work getting the funding and distribution for the film she’s making now called Tribe All.

Joyce also sees herself as an advocate for all Idaho independent filmmakers, telling anyone who will listen, “We’re good. If you give us the money, we will make a great product for you.”

Her activism has included participation in Idaho Film Day at the Boise Statehouse to educate lawmakers on the benefits to the economy that could come from tax incentives for filmmakers. House Bill 592 awaits Gov. Butch Otter’s signature and, with that, money to fund the film incentive program.

Perseverance is the cornerstone of her advice to aspiring filmmakers.

“If it’s your passion, never give up. Keep going, no matter what.” Joyce also tells young filmmakers to connect with an experienced filmmaker who’s been through all the ups and downs.

She herself is working with a young woman who is trying to make a film about food injustice. The young woman called up discouraged because someone had just given her a donation of $50. But Joyce reminded her to be grateful, because the $50 would buy ink for the printer or pay the electric bill.

“Sure, you need thousands of people giving you $50, or one person to give you $50,000, but you just have to keep going and believe in yourself and your project. It’s all part of the creative process.”

The creative process is the carrot that keeps Joyce holding on through the money aspect. Her favorite time on a film is when it all comes together in the editing room.

Joyce likes going through all the footage and matching it to the on-screen words of the interviewees; she likes adding the music and writing the narrative script.

“In a documentary, it’s backwards. You shoot the film, see what you have, and then you write the script.”

Asked if she has ever started working on a film and found out that it turned out to be completely different from what she thought it was going to be, she answers, “The one I’m working on now has had three different names. It started out as The Presence of The Goddess and now is Tribe All. 

 Joyce never knows what her next project is going to be: “I always say that whatever film I’m working on is my last. That I’m retiring and have nothing more to say,” she jokes.

She’s leaning towards doing features rather than documentaries, comparing the reenactments used in documentaries to the process of creating feature films.

“A lot of the same processes are used to get something inside your head on film,” says Joyce. “I’m open to ideas from other people. Film is a very collaborative process.”

However, she stresses that whatever form her next project takes, it will have to be something she is passionate about.

She is especially drawn to women like those she is encountering in her film, Tribe All. The film is about what women are doing around the world to save the earth. She is currently shooting in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, India, Europe and the United States. The film is slated for completion in 2009.

“This is about women who take leadership roles in their communities to make positive changes. Women who are not afraid to speak out and use their positions for change,” she says.

Fellow award-winning filmmaker Heather Rae sees Joyce as one of those kinds of women.

“Lori Joyce is a truly independent filmmaker. She chooses to live in Idaho in the mountains. She addresses delicate and profound themes. She stays true to her vision and does not adhere to conventions. We need these kinds of filmmakers, and even better in our beautiful state.”

As history has shown, when Lori Joyce dreams, she dreams big. Her ultimate in achievement would be every filmmaker’s, the Academy Award. And why not? Many would say she shouldn’t have made it this far the way she has.

“It all just evolved. Sometimes I wonder how I got here,” she says with wide-eyed honesty. “It’s still amazing to me.”

Chris Munson first met Lori Joyce in 1997 and Munson was intrigued to find out the story behind her friend. Munson majored in English literature and has been a teacher, a writer, and is now honing her multi-slacking skills.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.