Project Spotlight: 'The Apocalypse Will Blossom', Building Hope Back After the 2016 Election
Courtney Jines is an LA based filmmaker, writer, performer, and community organizer. She began her professional acting career at age 6 and has stared in films such as Spy Kids 3D, Because of Winn Dixie, and several other TV roles. At 19 she attended an accelerated filmmaking program in LA and in 2012 she founded her own production company, Moonflower Pictures. She's also the co-founder of "arts x action", a DC based org that brings local artists and activists together through community events and workshops. Her work has been featured by Girlgaze, Coolhunting, Autostraddle, Sundance Film Festival, Nobudge.com, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and Adobe project1324. We interviewed Courtney about her short "The Apocalypse will Blossom" a post 2016 election reaction film that details the depression that many felt. The film is interesting, funny, and intelligent. We love that the cinematography plays deeply into the world that Jines creates and how natural the acting is. It's truly a great piece, somehow packing an array of feelings in just 5 minutes.
How did you discover filmmaking?
I was a super imaginative and performative kid so my parents put me in a performing arts camp when I was really young, and I had a baby acting career that grew out of that. I think making my own films evolved naturally from there because I was on set a lot, which sort of de-mystified it for me, and I started making home videos with the camcorder. I wanted to tell my own stories. The first movie I remember putting a reasonable amount of effort into was a short film I shot with my brother and our friends when I was 12 or 13, it was a horror/sci-fi parody about a serial killing easter bunny.
Did you go to school for film? Can you describe how you picked up your skills?
Well, I went to film school but I dropped out at the end of the first year. I was really wrapped up in a relationship at that time, and I spent the next couple years writing and producing projects for friends that were still in school. I had been playing around with cameras from a young age, and spent a lot of time on different sets, so I kind of absorbed the way things worked. I think the best way to learn is to get some friends together, start making stuff, and see what happens. You definitely do not need to spend the money on four years of film school.
What roles are you most comfortable in? (directing, editing, producing, writing, etc)
It all starts with the writing for me. I spend an enormous amount of time thinking and re-thinking and visioning and making moodboards before I move on to actually writing it down and moving into pre-production. Everything that follows, producing, directing, editing, etc. is very much just what needs to be done to make sure the thing I saw in my head can become a real thing in the universe. I enjoy directing and art direction, but by the time I reach post I’m usually super over it and drawing on energy reserves to finish. Editing is like pulling teeth for me, but I do it anyway. I’d love to find an editor who gets my style and could help me assemble rough cuts.
How do you feel we can change the state of women and GNC folks in film?
I think there’s a wave that we’re riding right now where suddenly people are listening to women, and remembering women are people, and curious about them, and like… slightly afraid of them. And while a lot of it is sensationalized and will die down, we might as well ride this wave. It’s a good time to be applying for fellowships, telling stories that are particularly bold, making your own stuff and sharing it on social media etc. We need to change the whole ecosystem, which means more women and GNC folks in distribution as well as production. And we absolutely need to lift each other up and choose collaboration over competition.
Can you talk about your experience as a Sundance Ignite fellow?
Fellowship programs like the Ignite program are super important for emerging filmmakers. They are imperfect, and they are what you make of them, but they can open a lot of doors and help you build community-- which is important not only for your art, but for your wellbeing. I met a handful of genuinely caring filmmakers and artists through the program, and opportunities that arose afterwards, that are very important to me. Another valuable thing I took away from the program was the reminder that I, and other youth voices, actually have something to offer. Our perspectives are valid, and there are institutions out there that want to lift us up and support us in a tangible way.
Should young filmmakers actively apply for mentorships and programs such as these?
Absolutely. You have nothing to lose. At the VERY least it’s a great way to set project deadlines for yourself, so if nothing else, you’ve tricked yourself into creating something that you can learn from and share. One of my friend’s from the Ignite program told me she used to apply for a different fellowship every single day, and now she’s traveling in China making music. If you’re in a place where you’re craving growth and new experiences, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready, I think that would be a good thing to try. It will open up your world in a way that university can’t.
Can you talk about your organization arts x action?
Arts x Action developed very organically from the need for a shared space for socially engaged/activated artists and community organizers to build relationships with each other and inspire each others’ work in D.C. It started as a small event in the Columbia Heights Community Garden that my co-worker Cat Casino and I put together with mentorship from our friend Katie Petitt who organizes with Black Lives Matter. We mostly showcase low income, POC, queer youth art and we actually screened ‘The Apocalypse Will Blossom’ at that first event, projected onto a bedsheet. I moved to D.C. for social justice work, so I had a lot of connections in that community, but it was very disconnected from the art scene in a way that felt very alienating. We started building connections and coalitions with other artist groups like Uptown Arthouse, and were very conscious of growing slowly at our own pace, and honoring the community’s needs. I think that’s why it has been so successful. The events have grown massively, the last one had 800+ people in attendance and we ended up getting a grant from the city to put it on. It’s tricky navigating public art projects in communities that are being gentrified out, and making sure art isn’t being used as a tool for gentrification. We had a lot of evolving conversations about how to navigate that.
Why do you find community so important to the arts?
I don’t believe in creating art for “art’s sake.” You don’t make art for yourself, you make it for others. Art is communication. And artists are people who choose to take the time to listen, observe, and reflect what they find back to us so we can collectively process our experience. Art nourishes us, inspires us, changes us, heals us, bring us together. It can create community, and be created from community. It is necessary for survival. If we want our artists to be healthy, we need to support each other through community and reciprocal collective care.
Why did you create this piece?
I had dedicated almost all of my time since early 2016 to creating change outside of myself, and engaging with this massive movement of people going up against the political system, and just like barely surviving. It just reached a point where it was time to come back to myself, and reflect and process what I had been feeling in a meaningful way. I start to go a little crazy if I go too long without creating something.
Where did the title of this short come from?
The title came from a Jenny Holzer essay that starts with the line “REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE. TAKE COURAGE, FOR THE WORST IS A HARBINGER OF THE BEST.” Which just felt very relevant at the time and still does.
Did you have a moodboard when creating this piece? What other works inspired you?
Yes! Pinterest is a great tool to create digital moodboards that you can share and print out. I was inspired by Vera Chitylova’s Daisies and took some aesthetic inspiration from, like, dreamy 90s girl gang pictures, and stills from Godard movies that I’ve never seen honestly.
How long did this take to write?
I wrote it in about a week. Produced it in six weeks I think. I made it for a competition that it didn’t end up getting selected for, but it gave me a deadline. I’m glad it didn’t make it into the competition I had intended it for, because I got to screen it locally which was very rewarding, and it screened in New York with other shorts selected by NoBudge which was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend folks submit their films there.
How long did this take to shoot?
We shot it in three days with a crew of three, myself included. I funded it with my savings and flew out my friend Shereen Lani Younes from LA to shoot it with her camera. The crew was literally me, Shereen, and my friend Cat who did costuming/styling. I got some of my co-workers from the cafe I worked at at the time to help out with the protest scene.
What were the challenges of shooting this short film?
Acting and directing at the same time is always a challenge and I’m still figuring out how to do it in a way that feels comfortable. Shooting with such a tiny crew was also challenging. It was only possible because I was such good friends with Cat and Shereen so we had that trust. We were all wearing many hats. I love it that way, honestly, but it would have been helpful to have just one more person. The sound is entirely voice over so we didn’t have to worry about recording sound, which made it manageable.
What would you do differently? What are you proud of?
I tend to struggle a bit with endings. I didn’t write the ending of my first short ‘In The Future’ until 4 AM on the morning of the shoot. And with this one, I didn’t write it until we arrived at the location where I had planned to shoot the ending. I had written something but I didn’t love it, and knew it needed to be re-written, so I sat down under a tree once we got to the location and gave myself twenty minutes to come up with the ending. Which is… not something I would advise at all or be interested in doing again. I think I would also adjust the pace in editing. I had to keep it under 5 minutes for a competition I was submitting it to, and I think it maybe could have used a little more breathing room.
I’m proud that I managed to make it work in a way that felt true to what I was trying to say. And also for persevering when I couldn’t find anyone to play the MAGA hat wearing roles because they were afraid of government repercussions/repercussions at their jobs. I’m mostly proud of the three of us running around D.C. shooting guerrilla style and eating french fries and making a thing. Also the soundtrack! I’m very grateful to the musicians who let us use their tracks. Particularly Harsh Crowd, they’re a teenage all-girl rock band from NYC. So rad.
Advice for other filmmakers?
Apply for fellowships. Make stuff with your friends. Don’t create stuff just because you think it will be cool and trendy or whatever. All perspectives are necessary. Including yours. Seriously!