Filmmaker: jot Reyes

In the Dead of Winter We by R.A. Villanueva

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Last week when I shared 2 Degrees by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner with animation by Jonathan “jot” Reyes, I mentioned that Reyes has also made a fully animated poem. This is that film, made for the poem “In the Dead of Winter We” by the Filipino American poet R.A. Villanueva, from his book Reliquaria,” which won the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.

The film was nominated for the 2015 Webby Awards in the Best Online Video: Animation category, and the write-up there reveals some fascinating details, including the fact that Reyes and Villanueva are brothers:

What inspired you most to follow your dreams/vision while working on this project?
There could be no other way than to follow my vision. By definition, the entire project was a dream, it was a vision interpreted. This wasn’t a commercial, not a branding package. There were no clients, no expectations. All the work, all the years my brother put into crafting his lines, I could do no less than put everything I had into it. It was a culmination of every skill I had learned to date, an exhibition of years worth of tutorials with a pure purpose.

What made your project stand out in your industry/field and unique from the rest? What obstacles did that present and how did you overcome them?
The was no budget allocated for this animation. It was created in a short amount of time. “In the Dead of Winter We” was completed in one week, worked on only during nights after I came home from my day job, and through one sleepless weekend. There was no money for voice over, so I called my brother and asked him to recite his poem for me as inspiration, not knowing it would be used for this. I actually think that worked out well as the tinny voice and ambient street noise added to the piece. A green blanket hung over my apartment’s front door served as my green screen. Restrictions force us into creativity.

When did you first know that this work was going to be something special?
Immediately. It had to be special. It was for my brother. It was intensely personal. It wasn’t just about me and family, it was for them. In our day jobs, we’re often asked to sacrifice personal goals for the sake of buzzwords: product, branding, experience, etc.. Clients strip away meaningful bits as they see fit, as if at a salon. They craft it in their image, in what they want to see. For this, there was no client, no expectation. Whatever I put out there would be my own interpretation, and it could be nothing less for my family. In the end, it became the fusion of my family’s collective creativity.

2 Degrees by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CaZXCNfa04

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner‘s impassioned poem about climate change in a video from CNN, part of their correspondent John D. Sutter’s two degrees series. It aired in late June. Jonathan “jot” Reyes, the creative director of video development at CNN, included half a minute of motion graphics in a film that otherwise hews closely to the standard TV formula for poetry: shots of the poet alternating with a collage of complementary footage, more or less illustrative of the text. For a dash of irony, you can watch this on the CNN website, where it’s preceded by an automobile ad. But a longer, interactive web feature on Sutter’s visit to the Marshall Islands also includes the video poem (which is the term he uses for it), along with some prefatory text:

During my brief time in the islands, I met people like Angie [Hepisus] who are witnessing climate change and who are trying to do what’s best for themselves and their families. By sharing their stories, they hope the rest of us might listen — might realize our actions have consequences for places we’ll never see, for people we’ll never meet. I also had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a young mother and poet who has emerged as one of the country’s pre-eminent storytellers. A teacher at the College of the Marshall Islands, the 27-year-old also studies the oral stories that form the fabric of her nation and culture.

The article continues with two of Jetnil-Kijiner’s stories; click through for those. As Sutter points out, she spoke at the UN last fall, reading a different poem which was also made available as a video.

Incidentally, this isn’t jot Reyes’ first foray into videopoetry. I’ll be sharing another of his creations soon.