I first met Lori Joyce while working at Boise Weekly. It was a long time after getting to know her that I found out that she was a filmmaker and that working at the Weekly was just her day job. She immediately became my heroine. Lori didn’t go around shouting, “Hey, I’m a filmmaker.” That made finding it out all the more special. All of Lori’s film projects are stories that are close to her heart. Following her heart is nothing new for this documentary filmmaker http://www.idanha.org/. All her subjects spring from her strong beliefs and values including “Hearts and Minds: Teens and Mental Illness” the film for which she received the Peabody. Lori is now on the film festival circuit with her new film, “Arise,” which documents the portraits of powerful women around the world who are coming together to heal the earth.
From her very first film to the making of “The Journey of Sacagawea,” they’ve all been labors of love. At the time of this interview, the Emmy-nominated “The Journey of Sacagawea” is Lori’s favorite of all her films. “Creatively they just get better. I also felt a connection to Sacagawea throughout the making of the documentary. She was 16 years old with a newborn baby and thirty-one men. That is amazing to me.” Joyce also feels a strong connection to Native American spiritual beliefs with regard to revering Mother Earth. “Maybe it’s because I have a little bit of Cherokee, but it was so interesting to be able to speak to the Hidatsa, the Shoshone and the Nez Perce.”
Joyce started her career in the early ‘70s, in front of the camera in the modeling and fashion industry. This led to television in Dallas, covering the hippest and trendiest for an on-air entertainment magazine. However, she soon found her interest changing, and she followed her instincts. “What was going on in front of the camera was all so superficial and in the end unimportant,” she recalls. She wanted to tell stories that would move people to make positive changes in their lives.
It was the ‘80s then 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?’” Luckily she didn’t give up on her passion.
Joyce wasn’t trained in a film school; she learned her craft by watching others in the edit bay and behind the camera. “It all just evolved. Sometimes I wonder how I got here. It’s still amazing to me.” 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” and In Remembrance of Martin. The first, the story of a man who was moved by seeing The Arms Race Within to become more involved in the peace movement and the latter a tribute to the epitome of non-violent protest in America, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the ‘90s, as Lori was watching her eldest daughter make life choices which resulted in her becoming a victim of domestic violence, Lori 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. The truth became evident to her, that 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 effects of domestic violence.
Getting down to the practical, Joyce finds fund raising - getting the money to make her vision come to life - the hardest part of the process. She’s been trying to change her attitude about that. It’s something that she doesn’t always know how to talk about.
“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 still runs into 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. Right now she is working on changing that perception and trying to remember that she’s still here and still working. She feels lucky to have signed on with a producer’s rep, who will work on getting the funding and distribution for the film she’s making now, “Arise.” Above all Lori Joyce just wants people to know that there are independent filmmakers in Idaho and that “We’re good. If you give us the money, we will make a great product for you.” Her dream scenario would be to find someone to fund her film up front.
In contrast to raising the money to make the film, Joyce’s favorite part of the process is when it all comes together in the editing room. She 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 yes. “The one I’m working on now has had three different names. It started out as The Presence of The Goddess, then became The Shift, and is now out on the film festival circuit under its final name, Arise.
The theme of money resurfaces in asking about her least favorite of all her films, Shattered Lives. It’s not because of the subject matter, but because she had to do everything on a shoestring to get it made. She was recycling tapes and everyone was working on deferred billing. “It was crazy. 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.”
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 her a donation of $50, which is not going to get a film made. But Lori 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.”
Sometimes the subject matter of the film she’s making gives her inspiration and determination. Like this story from the making of Sacagawea: “We were shooting in Great Falls, MT and the location for the day’s shoot was the museum there. It was a hot day and I wore a sundress and sandals with heels. During one of my conversations with the museum historian, I learned that the sulfur springs that they took Sacagawea to when she was sick with fever was located on a trail a few miles from town. We made the decision to get the shot and we were running out of the perfect evening light for filming. My photographer and co-producer took off running. I removed my shoes and followed the best I could in bare feet on a dirt trail. The mosquitoes were as thick as mentioned in the journals of Lewis and Clark. I was being bitten badly and at one point I told myself I could not go on. It was then that I realized that if Sacagawea could do this at 16, ill and with a baby, then surely I could do it too. We got the shot!”
Joyce considers herself both an activist in general and an activist for film. When she was living in Idaho, she participated in Idaho Film Day at the statehouse to educate lawmakers on the benefits to the economy that could come from tax incentives for filmmakers. The bill was narrowly defeated in this session. Knowing her strength and stick-to-itiveness, one doubts that she and her fellow independent filmmakers will give up on this cause so near and dear to their hearts.
It’s people like the amazing women she’s documenting now in her film, Arise, who inspire Joyce. They are “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 like Susan Sarandon and Cybill Shepherd,” says Joyce, who keep her hopeful and motivated.
She 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’s open to 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. When Lori Joyce dreams, she dreams big. Her ultimate in achievement would be every filmmaker’s, the Academy Award. And why not?
And what do others in the film industry say about Lori Joyce and her work? Award winning filmmaker, Heather Rae says, "Lori Joyce is a truly independent filmmaker. She addresses delicate and profound themes. She stays true to her vision and does not adhere to conventions. We need these kind of filmmakers, and even better in our beautiful State!" Alan Austin, Idaho Public Television videographer, says, “I worked with Lori Joyce as Director on The Journey of Sacagawea. 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.” A different point of view is what independent filmmaking is all about and Lori Joyce seems to come to it naturally.
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. Let us hope that she continues to bridge the gap between what is and what could be.
Lori Joyce’s Filmography:
1982 – The Truth About Papa – A documentary on the life of Ernest Hemingway. Hosted by David Hemings.
1983 Wanderlust – A Look at Hemingway’s France. Hosted by Jack and Joan Hemingway
1984 – Christmas Eve, City of Peace – docu-poem about the search for “true peace” in Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
1985 – The Arms Race Within – documents the movement led by Jim and Shelley Douglass, to stop the train that takes nuclear weapons from Amarillo, Texas to Bangor, Washington.
1986 – In Remembrance of Martin – documentary honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1988 – The Healing of Brian Wilson – documents the suffering of the people of Central America and of a man who attempted to intervene on their behalf. Hosted by Kris Kristofferson.
1989 – Breakthrough – concert documentary performed by Kris Kristofferson and the Border Lords.
1998 – Shattered Lives – Telly Award winning documentary on domestic violence.
2003 - Hearts and Minds: Teens & Mental Illness – Idaho Public Television Production - Lori received the Peabody for this.
2004 – The Journey of Sacagawea – the story of the amazing woman who helped guide Lewis and Clark, narrated by Rita Coolidge. Emmy nomination, Telly win, a NETA win, and a Bronze Plaque at the Columbus Film Festival.
2011 – Arise – A film that captures the portraits and stories of extraordinary women around the world who are coming together to heal injustices against the earth, and weaves together poetry, music, art and stunning scenery to create a hopeful and collective story that inspires us to work for the earth.
A version of this piece appeared in Sun Valley magazine in 2008.