Video is the perfect medium for bringing awareness to current issues that deserve more attention. Tell us how Fotolanthropy does this.
At Fotolanthropy we receive story nominations covering all sorts of topics: illnesses and disease, infertility and international adoption, loss due to natural disasters, and wounded warriors. We specifically look for individuals and families who have taken their adversity, their trial, and used it as a tool to make a difference and inspire others. Each of our recipients receives a professional portrait session, as well as a slideshow, album and digital copies of their images. Some of our stories we select for short 7-10 min documentary films. We look at Fotolanthropy as a spotlight we’re trying to shine on people who are already doing something amazing – using their story for good.
What are some of the causes that Fotolanthropy has featured and how has the exposure made a direct impact?
Some stories have dealt with childhood illnesses and disabilities that are rather rare. I think these parents can sometimes feel so alone, trying to learn medical terminology, treatment options, statistics and studies; all while the stack of medical bills on their table is growing. For them to see even just one other family who’s going through the same thing and have the ability to connect with them, is a huge source of strength and comfort.
Touring the country with "Travis: A Soldier’s Story", we had many other young veterans, amputees and those struggling with PTSD that attended the screenings and expressed how much it meant to them that this story was being shared. I think they felt like we were giving them a voice. We’ve also been able to help raise funds for Travis’s foundation, which is building a camp in Maine for wounded veterans and their families at the former Elizabeth Arden estate.
Some of our recipients are now speaking publicly and writing, and share their Fotolanthropy films when they speak. Others have been able to use their film or slideshow to help raise money for their medical costs or for organizations they are getting involved with. And for others, I think it’s just a visual reminder of what they have overcome and a story they can share with their family and the people around them. We love that their Fotolanthropy film gifts them with a visual tool that gives them a platform to share their story.
Our most viral story to date, “A Father's Love,” was shared all over the world. This is a moving story of a father with terminal cancer who knew he likely wouldn’t be around to walk his daughters down the aisle at their weddings. So he surprised them at a chapel, donning a tuxedo and inviting family and friends, and walked down the aisle with each of his daughters. To top it all off, he then surprised his wife as well by walking HER down the aisle and renewing their wedding vows. Sadly he passed away not long after this event; but through this one simple gift he has left a legacy impacting fathers around the world, some who have used his idea with their own families. We stay in close contact with this family and they always share how thankful they are that others could see their father's love and that act of kindness.
Your film, "Travis: A Soldier’s Story" has received national acclaim. Tell us more about this project and its reach.
I stumbled on a picture of Travis online a few years ago and it just really struck a chord in me. Here is this young man, missing portions of both arms and legs and he had the biggest smile on his face. I contacted him and asked if he would be interested in being interviewed for a Fotolanthropy film, and a few weeks later we were on a plane to North Carolina with a film team.
Our original intent was to do a Fotolanthropy short film, which is typically 7-10 minutes. But once we finished interviewing Travis, I think our team all looked at each other and we just KNEW we had to do more.
I am still amazed and humbled when I look back at all the things that just seemed to fall into place at the right time during our journey with this film. We decided to try Kickstarter to see if we could raise some additional funds for filming – as all filmmakers know, renting (or owning!) cinema-quality cameras and associated lighting equipment, etc., unfortunately does not come cheap. Travis’s support community really rallied around the making of this film and helped us raise some funds, and so many organizations stepped up to help with equipment, flights, transportation, food and filming.
When you watch the film, you’ll notice that Travis actually plays himself in the reenactments. Not only that, each of the soldiers in the reenactment scenes are also the actual soldiers who were with Travis when his accident happened, some of whom were also injured. They all jumped at the chance to be in the film and I don’t think we could have possibly hired actors who would have done a better job. These men just totally embraced it and gave it everything.
Once we finished the film, we knew we wanted to do something really special to share it, so we organized a red carpet screening in Dallas - which sold out, even after we added an additional auditorium. Almost immediately we started receiving requests from people and organizations in other cities around the country, including Travis’s hometown in Michigan, who wanted to share the film. So we packed up and took our show “on the road”. We spent much of late 2013 and 2014 traveling to different cities – big and small for screenings. We got to meet so many amazing people. We were asked to screen the film at our nation’s Capitol building. FOX News’ Jenna Lee helped us organize a Times Square screening. And Gary Sinise and his foundation hosted a screening in San Diego. The film screened in 40 cities and won Best Documentary Short at the GI Film Festival. We culminated our touring with a special 2014 Veteran’s Day event and screening in Dallas.
This film shows some of the highlights from our journey with the film.
And to think, just four years ago I had this little idea spinning in my head: “Wouldn’t it be neat if other artists and I could give back with our cameras? I wonder if anyone else would like to do that with me?” Starting Fotolanthropy has taught me to believe in your big ideas, and that when you combine hard work and passion, anything is possible. Every day we get to focus on giving back to others and it’s been the most important work of my life.
What has the feedback been like from photographers and videographers who have participated in Fotolanthropy?
I’ve realized how many other photographers and filmmakers really do have the same longing that I did – to do something more. Running your own business is very exciting, but I think anyone who has done this will also admit it is very easy to get burned out. That’s how I was feeling in 2011 before I started Fotolanthropy. I loved being a photographer and running my portrait and wedding business, but I started to have this growing feeling like something was missing.
I can see the excitement on the faces of our Fotocrew members while we are on shoots, or when we check in with them after they have finished a Fotolanthropy portrait session. They get to unleash their creativity a little more at these shoots, and knowing they are giving back really fuels them to do their best for our recipients. I think it also reminds them what their photography and film-making businesses are really all about – telling stories: a family’s story, a couple’s wedding story, a brand’s story. What we do really is powerful and important.
How can photographers and filmmakers get more information about become involved?
We are always looking for more Fotocrew members who are interested in giving back! They can visit our website – Fotolanthropy.com – and click on “Join the Crew”, where they will be asked to fill out an application.
The mission of Fotolanthropy is to capture and share inspiring true stories of people who have overcome adversity through photography and film. Fotolanthropy seeks to be a hub of inspiration for all through the power of storytelling. With each story, Fotolanthropy gives the recipient a portrait session, a slideshow to music and the digital images, as well as a platform for them to share their story. Fotolanthropy also chooses about 5 stories to make into short documentary films each year. Fotolanthropy is a nationwide community of professional photographers and filmmakers who use their cameras for good by donating their time and talents to capture stories of those who inspire them. These artists are the storytellers behind every story shared on Fotolanthropy’s website. With their common interest of giving back and a servant-hearted spirit, these Fotocrew members are uniting together as an artistic community to give back to those who have overcome adversity.