Inspirational new documentary Janey Makes A Play premieres in LA next week (17th June at Arena Cinemas Hollywood) then opens wider a week later. Janey, from director Jared Callahan, follows 90-year old Janey (Callahan’s own grandmother) as she writes and directs her latest original, socially relevant community theatre production for the small town in which she lives. Battling through the current recession, the colorful troupe of faithful townspeople cope with their own struggles by telling their story on stage.
How did you get involved in the film?
Janey is my grandmother. I was home for Christmas in 2011 and we were sitting outside talking before dinner. She started this theatre troupe when she was 80-years-old. Janey was telling me all about the play they had just performed. I asked, “Do you have any ideas for the next play?” Of course she did! Janey rattled off all these pieces of an incredible idea explaining how hard the recession had been on the farmers and folks from small towns. The villain was a slick businessman from the big city. Instantly I knew we had to film that play, because she was telling the story of her small town on stage. I typed the idea into my phone, and eight months later I was in their community theatre building filming auditions.
How did you pitch it initially?
I was at Sundance in 2012 to support a friend’s project. At night, fueled by the energy of the festival, I stayed up late and wrote out the treatment and funding proposal for this feature film. I then asked my parents if it would be appropriate to pursue the project. Then asked Janey, and then met with their community theatre troupe’s creative leadership panel. Once they gave me the green light we were good to go.
Do you recall Janey’s reaction when you told her you were going to do a movie on her?
Honestly, I don’t think any of them really knew what they were all getting into. Janey especially. She loves movies, but someone asking to do a movie about you? I just don’t think it clicked. When we finished filming some of the people asked if they could see the film in a month! I responded kindly that it might take up to two years. Once I cut a teaser and posted it online I think they began to realize the scope of the project.
Was she nervous? Or by the other token, did she turn it up for the cameras?
Neither. I think you get to a certain age where you are just going to be you regardless of the surroundings. Janey certainly never modified her actions in any way. I think it helped that we filmed on DSLR cameras. The subjects never totally forgot that we were filming, but they quickly became incredibly comfortable with us being around. Subconsciously having a couple of “photo cameras” around is wildly different than lugging big film camera. This film couldn’t have been made ten years ago. It’s a testament to the development of technology and our increased comfort level with it always being around.
What would you like to say to the readers on why they should come check out Janey Makes a Play?
This is a film about a small community doing the best with what they have. It will make you laugh and maybe tear up. Janey is inspirational, but not in a cheesy way. The best part is, the troupe doesn’t even see how amazing they are! They are real people doing extraordinary things and not even realizing it. This film provides a wonderful breath of fresh air amongst watching things explode in the summer blockbuster films.
I hope the film challenges you to think about the ways you are participating in your community. If this 90-year-old woman still has gifts to offer, what about you? I believe we are subtly accepting ageism in the United States, where we say, “Oh you’re retired, go drive around in an RV and then quietly die in a group home.” That sounds harsh, but it’s true. Janey’s life fights back against that. She is learning and starting new things in her 80s and 90s. What’s our excuse?
Though you’ve a background as a pastor you seem keen to pursue filmmaking. Can you do both?
Both ministry and filmmaking are about telling important stories and helping people see a broader view of reality. When people say “Christian filmmaker” they often picture someone working in a particular genre. I am a person of faith who is also a filmmaker, so I have a particular perspective that informs my work but I’m not aiming to make movies exclusively for that audience. In ministry and in filmmaking, I want to ask good questions and tell honest stories so people can see a bigger perspective and participate in lives of reconciliation, justice, and mercy.
I truly value all people, their journeys, and the things they believe about the world and our purpose here. I got a Masters of Spiritual Formation because I just wanted to know more about the human journey. In the end, I know my role on this earth is to love people so radically that they come to know themselves as fully loved and can live into that reality. It’s through this lens that I can tell stories as objectively as possible, not with the aim to convince you of any particular belief. My projects often serve as a way for me to grow as a person, and if watching that process on screen edifies the viewer, then it’s a bonus.