Woman crushes, we all have them. To inspire you, we use our Wednesdays to interview women we admire and share their amazing stories with you. This week we're crushing on Jalena Keane-Lee. She's a force of nature — a documentary director, producer, show runner, and social justice warrior.
When and how did you discover your love for documentary film/ social justice?
Social justice has always been important to me. One of my current projects is Standing Above the Clouds, which is about Native Hawaiian activists fighting against a 30-meter telescope being built on their sacred mountain. There’s a Hawaiian word, kuleana, which translates to a genealogical/ancestral responsibility, and in my family using your passion to further social justice is our kuleana. My grandfather was a theologian and wrote books about debunking the model minority myth, and marched with MLK Jr. in Selma and DC. My mom is a performer and runs an arts education non-profit that helps young people realize their voice and their political consciousness.
Tell us about the mission of Breaktide Productions? Where does the name come from?
Breaktide Productions is an all womxn of color production company that aims to democratize filmmaking by uplighting underrepresented voices on camera and behind-the-scenes. We recognize the rarity and importance of existing at the intersection of race and gender when media making.
I actually made up the word Breaktide! We were brainstorming names for so long and couldn’t seem to land on the right one. At one point we were just combining different words, and we’re all very drawn to the ocean and I love the name Breaktide because it evokes our mission to disrupt filmmaking as it is/has been.
What's it like being part of a diverse female team? How did you find each other?
We work so well together because each of us has the capacity to fully execute projects independently of each other, and then when we lift each other up the magic really happens. I have two co-founders, Reaa and Alex. Reaa and I actually went to high school together and we reconnected when I moved back home after college. I met Alex through this phenomenal group called Brown Girls Doc Mafia, which is for womxn of color in documentary. We met at an event and really hit it off, and all three of us were at a place in our career where we are skilled and capable but need support, and particularly support from other womxn of color.
How do you feel about the current trend of womxn being more visible in film? Where do you desire we go from here/take this movement?
I don’t think it’s a trend. The media landscape is changing so rapidly, which paired with many, many years of womxn putting in grueling work and then making space for the womxn coming up after them, is what I think is creating the current moment. I’m grateful for this time because I think consumers who might not otherwise think about who is directing the film/media they see, unless it’s a big name, are now considering who is behind the camera and what impact that has on the final product. I guess it’s a proud moment for media literacy! And for people with marginalized identities, now is our time!
Can you tell us about your recent project, Nadya Talks?
I’m the showrunner of Nadya Talks and I direct, shoot, and edit it! It’s a passion project with Nadya Okamoto because we realized she has so many phenomenal friends and we wanted to tell their stories in a fun way. We also want to show that these womxn who are breaking barriers are also real people who are funny, and weird, and interesting. [@nadyatalks on insta and all social media]
What is next for Breaktide Productions?
We have three short form projects coming out in July, which is extremely exciting:
[In addition to Nadya Talks] I am currently working on a short documentary about Nadya Okamoto as a Jacob Burns Film Center fellow. My film follows Nadya as she navigates her second semester of sophomore year at Harvard, while traveling the globe speaking about her non-profit PERIOD, which supplies menstrual products to homeless people.
OAKLEAD is a forthcoming documentary following Oakland families battling lead poisoning, and investigating the correlation between socioeconomic status and access to equitable housing and healthcare.
“Lets Connect Or Whatever" follows Jazzi through her hustles and heartbreaks in a world where her connections are increasingly formed through digitized spaces.
What is your personal definition of success?
One thing that fueled me to co-found Breaktide Productions was this idea of collective success. Throughout history pretty much every powerful man was propped up by womxn who supported him, counseled him, and in some cases did his job for him. Imagine if we supported each other the way we support our men.
Now is the time to work with, uplift, and stand for other womxn you admire!