Tell us a little bit about yourself. What should our readers know about you?
My name is Jalena Keane-Lee I am 23, and I’m currently living in New York freelancing, working on a short documentary, and feature project. I am a fellow at the Jacob Burns Film Center creating a short documentary about Nadya Okamoto, a 20 year-old menstrual activist who started a non-profit PERIOD at 16. PERIOD provides free menstrual products to homeless people, and my film chronicles Nadya’s experience being a young woman of color thrust into the lime light around a polarizing issue.
Your website mentions prevalent themes in your work including indigenous land rights, destigmatizing menstruation, the importance of campus activism, and the meaning of consent - could you tell us why these issues are so close to your heart?
I was raised acutely aware of injustice. My mom took my sister and I to protests all the time, and my grandfather marched with MLK Jr. and Cesar Chavez. I have always understood that power and oppression shape all of our realities.
In my work, I’m drawn to topics that show women of color as the powerhouses we are, standing up for communities. Issues that seem so simple – period products should be free and accessible for instance, but are complicated by layers of power and privilege.
What have you discovered about yourself in the past year, in terms of your work? How has that discovery influenced your style going forward?
This past year has been full of transition for me. I graduated from college, moved back to the West Coast, moved back to the East Coast, and profoundly grew as a young creative. Leaving college I was focused on directing and producing, but post-grad I realized how important it is for me to be able to shoot and edit and really understand all aspects of film as well. So I’ve been focusing on my technical skills, and that has given me so much freedom to create exactly the kids of projects I want to create.
Can you describe a moment that you're particularly proud of in your career? Why are you proud of it?
My first film, The Construct: Female Laborers and the Fight for Equality, follows female construction workers in Yangon, Myanmar. A month or so ago one of my contacts at the UN in Myanmar reached out about doing a local screening for a small group of interested people. There was only around fifteen people there, and I Skyped in from New York at a very early hour, but it was the proudest moment of my career thus far. The audience worked at UN Women and in other gender focused sectors of development in Myanmar, and their response to the film was invaluable.
They talked about how the film gave so much insight into feminism across socio-economic status, and it illustrated a lot of the issues they work with in an engaging way. It was a small screening, and the goal of the space was to be completely present and not take any pictures or think about how you would share the experience. It was so special the proudest moment of my career so far for sure.
Tell us about your production company, Breaktide Productions. What inspired you to start it, and what's the best thing about it?
I co-founded Breaktide Productions because for all of history women, and particularly women of color, have dedicated themselves to uplifting the men in their lives. We have supported them, counseled them, and at times did their jobs, all while receiving little to no credit for it. Breaktide Productions reimagines that history. We thought – what if we support each other the way our people have supported their men.
The best thing about it is having support. Filmmaking can be lonely and disheartening. Having a group that cares and supports me is the best part. We are all working on our own short projects right now, and each of us are invested in each others projects and send each other resources and give each other advice. It’s great to have people in your corner.
What's the importance of collaboration to you? Do you work best with other creatives, or better on your own?
Collaboration is everything! I am currently a fellow at the Jacob Burns Film Center, and there are eight fellows, and we all meet once a week and talk about our projects. It’s been such a powerful learning experience, and has helped me realize exactly how vital collaboration and community are to filmmaking.
My other favorite community is Brown Girl Doc Mafia, a group of women of color documentary filmmakers. They have given me life, I met one of the co-founders of Breaktide at one of their events, and I’ve gotten most of my freelance jobs in NYC from posts on the facebook group.
What's a recent obstacle you had to overcome in regards to your work? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn from the experience?
One of the biggest obstacles for me was finding ways to integrate community into my filmmaking practice. Not only during production, but in the pitching, development, editing, and distribution phases too. Filmmaking can be extremely isolating and stressful. After college, my sense of time and deadlines was all of a sudden completely my own.
I realized I needed people to update with challenges and successes and to create some external deadlines for my work. It can be difficult to work in such a subjective medium, especially when you get so close to the characters in your film. That’s where my film community has come into play.
Do you have a particular creative goal for 2018? What steps are you currently working on to achieve that goal?
My goal for 2018 is to work with women of color, engage with community, and really build my body of work. I want to work with other young filmmakers and artists and really revel in this current creative renaissance. I’ve been making an effort to go to as many networking events as possible, watching lots of movies, and constantly applying and putting myself out there for new opportunities.
And check out her Ten Facts feature here.