In every workshop we talked about finding the heart of your story – that people ultimately carry a story, any story – but the biggest thing we learned on this trip was just how much this would apply to the story and journey we were living on this tour.
And like any good story, it all came together for us on the last night of the tour. It all became clear we ended where we started–in Portland, and with a nine year old girl that had the audacity to take on child slavery with her lemonade stand.
Unseasonably lovely for April in Portland, the sunset on the night of our last stop glowed pinkish orange on #standwithme on the marquee of the Hollywood Theater. When the credits rolled and Grant and Patrick took the stage to answer a few questions.
Vivienne, the heart of #standwithme, asked something that had not been asked by a single person in 30 cities: ‘What is your favorite part of the movie?’
Taking a moment, Grant replied what we all were thinking: ‘The people.’
Collectively the most important thing we took away from this tour were the amazing stories of the people we met. Our favorite part was the stories we heard, big and small. It seemed like everywhere we went, people opened up.
In 67 days on the road, the best thing found were all the stories. We were able to really connect with people and get past the surface. Deeply personal stories and fun silly stories.
Truth be told, we couldn’t have made it through the set up and packing up the van and on to another city for 67 days, without all the incredible people we met. Their stories sustained us. As much as we needed these stories to sustain us, we felt even more compelled to help people share these stories the way they thad been given to us: with heart.
We are storytellers. We live on story. And so it would be selfish of us to keep all these stories for ourselves, so with that, here are five of the awe inspiring people we were graced to meet on our journey…
Kelly, getting a grip on her limitations.
Kelly was a young shutterbug – from the age of 9 her camera was an extension of her body. All of her time went into exploring the world through a lens. All of her babysitting money went toward buying film. She took every opportunity to pose her friends and capture those around her.
And then her whole world changed.
The driver of the opposite car fell asleep at the wheel, colliding head on with her family’s car. Kelly was thrown through the window. The crash severed the nerves that connected her right arm to her brain.
She was lucky to be alive. But a quarter of her body was crushed, and along with it her dreams of become a photographer.
At 12 years old she had never realized that things as simple as brushing your teeth could be so awkward with the hand you so rarely used.
Those of us who use a camera daily know: Photography relies on constantly using both hands, to be agile, quick, and stay ahead of the action.
Kelly still dreamed of being a photographer, but having a quarter of her body paralyzed was more than a minor setback. More than one person told her it couldn’t be done. Luckily that didn’t stop her.
She found a way support the camera with a single arm, her delicate fingers dialing all the controls. She altered everything that she knew about to supporting the weight of a camera. Kelly even learned how to roll film with her feet. Kelly spent a decade learning how to work a camera with only one arm.
Kelly proved to us that our real limitations are often about the assumptions we make. In her own words: “Sometimes things look like brick walls: something so massive that it seems like the only thing you can do is turn around. Those are there to show you just how bad you want something.”
She has become a successful wedding photographer who truly loves connecting with brides and grooms. Soon to launch a blog called “A Life Modified,” Kelly hopes to inspire others to break down their own brick walls.
Jenny, a survivor twice over, teaches her family something new.
Jenny’s story came to us with the image of a tree strung with colorful hand scrawled expressions of gratitude and the question of a 10 year old girl: ‘How can you get breast cancer when you don’t have breasts?”
Jenny had lost fifty pounds and hidden medical bills for months before husband Jeff figured out what she’d been hiding so long. As they at the kitchen table and talked, their 10-year-old daughter, who they’d thought had been playing outside had heard the whole conversation.
Emily walked in and quietly said ‘I don’t understand. You can’t have cancer twice.’ And then the even tougher question ‘How can you get breast cancer when you don’t have breasts?”
It was in that moment that Jenny realized she had done way more damage in trying to keep things quiet and control the situation. Jenny’s cancer was back but she knew she had to give her family the assurance that life would go on.
Around the same dinner table where their hearts had been broken just weeks ago, the family started to rebuild hope.
Jenny asked everybody at the table to take a moment and share something they were grateful for. Conversations around the dinner table turned into journaling. Journaling turned into writing them down on colorful tags. And when they amassed nearly 400 tags, Jenny started to hang them from the bare branches of the sick tree in the front yard.
It became something of a spectacle in the neighborhood. When she started to share her story with others, they too brought tags to add to the grateful tree. Soon the tree was alive with the beautiful reasons Jenny, her family, and the community were grateful.
What power gratitude has in the face of struggle. What hope there is in taking a moment to say thank you.
In hearing Jenny’s story we realized that no matter how tough things look, there is incredible power in taking a moment to be grateful. And when we take the time to share that appreciation, it can inspire others in incredible ways.
We are struck by Jenny’s powerful words: “No words can adequately express how terrified I am of living a marginal life. I want to be intentional about how I live my days, who I spend them with, and that I am practicing life as it is supposed to be done with a heart of gratitude, giving, and adventure.”
Jacob, the youngest 74 year old you’ll meet.
At 74 Jacob realized that he had to make a documentary. He has a story to tell that he knew could really help others, a story that nobody else could tell but him.
Five years earlier when his doctors told him that Rheumatoid Arthritis would put him in a wheelchair in 6 months, he just couldn’t believe it. His medication cost him nearly $2,000 a month, just to keep the pain at bay. Then one day, without warning or cause, it just stopped working. He needed an alternative.
As an occupational therapist for over 40 years, he had seen the body in every state of degradation. The people he’d met and the stories he’d been a part of, they had lit a fire inside of him. He set out to make a film about overcoming adversity, but first he had to overcome his own.
Filmmaking was a new passion that he had to explore, and he decided that couldn’t happen from a wheelchair.
Jacob switched to a 100% vegetable based diet. No fish, no dairy, low salt, low sugar, low carb. Amazingly, it worked. And then he set to work.
He did not let his lack of knowledge become a fear, it was a motivator. He dove into all of the filmmaking resources he could find online. He was absolutely voracious and totally committed.
When he joined our 12 week online filmmaking challenge (Take Action), Jacob was triple the age of other attendees yet completed more assignments than most.
Jacob showed us it’s never too late to go after what we love. We can make excuses about what we should have done–that it’s too late or that it’s not the right time–but the truth is never too late to learn, never too late to go after what you love.
Joining us for Storytelling With Heart workshop in Chicago, Jacob devoured the material with spry, youthful exuberance.
Grant found himself walking the three flights of stairs up to the conference room next to Jacob. Taking each step with a stride, Jacob turned to Grant and said “5 years ago the doctors told me I’d be in a wheelchair in no more than 6 months.” To that he replied “shove off,” and he took off up the stairs.
Una, the Botswanan Brooklynite takes the first step.
Una doesn’t know why she lived, when two of her young siblings didn’t. Something so small, a sip of contaminated water, could have ended her young life in Botswana.
As a Pediatric Critical Care Specialist in Brooklyn, NY, Una saves the lives of the seriously ill children. But her dream is to open Botswana’s first children’s hospital, and make it one where are art and medicine heal more than just an affliction.
Una sees a garden filled with living things, the green of native plants, bright flowers, insects, and butterflies. Every room of the hospital opens into the garden and is filled with life, community, and light. Each room’s atmosphere is different, catering to the child inside, fabric and lights are drawn across the walls in different therapeutic colors to enhance the healing. Healing the whole body of each child is the focus, art is prescribed as readily and equally with pharmaceuticals. But she didn’t know how to make that dream a reality.
When she met Leah, a New York City artist, 3 year ago they were fast friends. The more they talked, the more Leah became interested in Botswana. When Leah visited Botswana last fall she finally saw a way that they could begin the long journey to bring the worlds of art and medicine together.
Barona bus was born.
“The word Barona is Setswana for “OURS”. It is a word that unifies us all as equals.” The colorfully painted old school bus now tours the country to bridge the gap between art and medicine. With this bus they are raising awareness, connecting with communities, and are making their fledgling steps toward bringing their dream hospital into reality.
What will never leave us is that when you take a big dream and break it into small steps, that first step is just as important as the last. Taking that first step, no matter how small, is better than taking no step at all.
Una knows there is a long way to go in bringing the hospital to Botswana. But what makes everyday on the bus worthwhile is that she knows they are headed towards their goal.
For Chantelle, the first few steps were rocky, but the dream she achieved was huge.
Chantelle, change does good for the heart.
Chantelle’s life was like a bright shiny apple that was beautiful on the outside but bruised and worm eaten inside. She remembers pressing herself to the cold backseat window to avoid the blows that were being thrown from the front. The abuse wasn’t just physical, and after witnessing a suicide attempt by her mother – she was left struggling to find any sort of safety.
At 16 she turned to drugs, alcohol, and non-stop partying. She became a blackout drunk.
If she had any hope of saving her own life, she knew she had to get away. With the encouragement of friends, she got clean and signed up for a month long volunteer trip to Sierra Leone to help build a home for street children. She had had visions of herself as some kind of girl super hero who could arrive in Sierra Leone and fix their problems in an instant. The reality, as you may imagine, was much different.
Volunteer living conditions were far worse than she had imagined. The children she encountered had problems she couldn’t easily fix. Coming to Sierra Leone was supposed to help her feel good.
When she finally got a hold of a friend she cried her eyes out. She was ready to abandon her trip well before it was completed until her friend asked ‘You keep focusing on everything you hate, but you are there for a reason. So tell me, do you have a reason for staying in Sierra Leone?’
She instantly remembered little Wandy who was at her door every morning, waiting for cuddles and games. Alimamy had his toe cut open to relieve infection, but at least she was there to hold his hand. All of the children who surrounded her in the dusty village that were starved for attention, and so grateful for the love she could give them.
They became her reason to stay in Sierra Leone. And she did stay.
She learned that in Sierra Leone the chances of a girl be sexually assaulted is great than the her chances of graduating high school, Chantelle is committed to changing that. She and a friend founded One Girl, a non-profit that is dedicated to funding education for girls.
It wasn’t until she tried to help others that she could stop self-medicating and truly help herself.
Chantelle’s story is about the power of finding your purpose. Finding something you are absolutely connected might be very difficult but will fulfill you much more than any quick fix.
It has been 5 years since Chantelle dramatically changed the course of her life. With a goal of educating 1 million women throughout Africa by 2020, she has a long way to go, but One Girl has already changed the lives of more than 1,700 women. What motivates Chantelle every day is that same thing that made her stay in Sierra Leone, it is her ability to share her love that will make the world a better place of all the children in Sierra Leone.
They all fit together.
Brick walls may present themselves. We have to bust them down, remember why we are grateful, realize that it is never to late to chase our dreams, it only takes one small step to start, but all your hard work is worth it, 100% .
As much as we know about filmmaking and as many stories as we tell, we know there is always more to learn.
Storytelling is an endless process of learning and collaboration. Our lives are made up by stories of the people we encounter on our path—those we inspire through feeling inspired, those from whom we learn so much more than what we taught. We must learn to be open to what each of these stories can tell us, as we tell our own.
This is why we’re more than proud—try: crazy excited—to participate in this very special event hosted by Story & Heart: April 29th, at 6 PM PST, Ask Us Anything!
The idea is simple: to give you the chance to finally ask that one burning question about filmmaking you’ve always had, but have never had answered.
The Live Event is a place for Story & Heart’s filmmaking community to come together, a place where you feel comfortable to ask those questions that touch on something deeper, something more personal or even more vulnerable than you’d find in a typical Q&A.
Because these are the kinds of questions that will help us become the kinds of filmmakers that can tell remarkable stories: filmmakers who feel supported and safe enough to tell the kinds of stories that matter—stories that can change the world.
By registering for the event below, you’ll be joining us and a crew of other incredible filmmakers—like Gnarly Bay, Vincent Laforet, Film Lab Creative, Capture Studios, the Delivery Men, and Ryan Booth—for a night of community, collaboration, encouragement, and, above all, learning.
Registration is totally free. All you have to do is submit that one burning question you’ve never been able to ask. Additionally, link us to one of your own films and we may critique it, live on air! If that weren’t enough, we’ll have plenty of stuff to give away—share this page with some fellow filmmaking friends to possibly win some gear or swag!