The Panola Project Team at Sundance Film Festival 2022

The short film selection of the Sundance Film Festival 2022 includes “The Panola Project” directed by Rachael DeCruz and Jeremy S. Levine. CineVino’s Wesley Marsh virtually connected with the production team of “The Panola Project” including Rachael DeCruz, Jeremy S. Levine and the film’s composer of  Jermaine “Maineframe” Fletcher to discuss the filming that chronicles the journey of Dorothy Oliver.

“I think we were just really into this idea of like what is a film that we can tell right now. We don’t have to ask anyone elses permission, nobody else needs to like come on board at this point, we’ve got a camera, we’ve got the two of us, let’s go do something.” – Jeremy S. Levine

Jeremy S. Levine: Hey, yeah so I am Jeremy and this is Rachael DeCruz, we’re partners in life and working on some creative projects. We are really excited to be hear talking with you.

Wesley Marsh: Good, good, so tell us a little bit more, just give us a little overview about about The Panola Project?

Jeremy S. Levine: You want to go for that? (to Rachael DeCruz)

Rachael DeCruz: Sure! Yeah so the Panola Project is a short film that follows the work of Dorothy Oliver in her community in Panola, Alabama where she is working tirelessly to insure that her full community is vaccinated and has all of the information if they need to get vaccinated. So the film chronicles her journey and through her incredible, incredible effort she was able to get 99% of her community vaccinated in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

WM: Very good. Definitely a story that needs to be told. So, tell me. How did you learn about Dorothy’s work in Panola and what actually drew you to this project?

Jeremy S. Levine: Yeah, you know I think we were really uhm, you know, we all know it’s been a rough few years. It’s just been one thing after another and we were living in Alabama at the time. This is about a year ago now and it had been a year of the pandemic and miraculously Oh my G*d we have vaccines and there was light at the end of the tunnel. And you know, there were a lot of people who weren’t getting the vaccine whether they are not able to or they have fears about it or whatever that is and all of sudden it just kind of feels like we are back in some downward spiral that we can all relate to. And so it was a really conscious effort on our part to find a story that could bring us hope and bring the world hope. A lot of my work in the past has dealt with some really hard issues and sometimes it’s important I think to tell those hard issues that are sometimes just depressing and I was like I cannot do this right now, I need a story that is going to kind of lift us up. And we read an article about this woman who was kind of running her own vaccination campaign in her community and she was doing it all from this convenience store she was running out of a mobile home. It sounded like the kind of story we wanted to tell. We drove about an hour and half or so to go visit her and yeah, she was kind of amazing from the beginning. We were just so inspired and taken by her from the first moment we walked in that door.

W.M.: Good. So, tell me more about working with Dorothy. What type of insights did she give you into her community and her initiative to get everyone vaccinated.

Rachael DeCruz: Dorothy is a Super Hero. She is just like an incredible, incredible woman. Deeply driven, deeply committed to her community and it really comes across in the film. And so, you know I think this film wouldn’t have been possible without her. Obviously she is the main character of the film that we are following but also the vaccination rate would not be as high as it is in Panola without Dorothy’s efforts and a lot fo that is the deep relationships and trust she has with community members. And so, because Dorothy is so well respected, because every body knows each other in Panola, it is a really tight knit community, that gave us a level of access that I think would have been really challenging for us to get if it wasn’t for her. And you know throughout the whole time continued to be amazed at her persistence and her ability to say we are just going to keep going until we get every person in this community vaccinated and even when you know some hard conversations or conversation that maybe didn’t go as she expected or as we hoped it really felt like she was like “okay, I am just we are going to dust myself off, I am going to go get some sleep and tomorrow we are going to try again so that spirit was really for me it was personally something that I felt I took away from the work with her.

Jeremy S. Levine: And you know I think it’s so true, the same kind of level of persistence and that like dogged effort to get everyone vaccinates right, she is doing that for the film too. She’s in many ways like a coproducer there. We are going to go do this thing, you can’t stand in Dorothy’s way if she says we’re doing it we’re doing it. So yeah, she is was a huge part in making the film come to fruition.

W.S: So when you started working and researching on this project, when did you know, or did you have a strategy in place I should say to make this film and when did you know that you actually had a story to tell here.

Jeremy S. Levine: That’s a great question. You know I think that we’ve got some longer term projects that were working on and were super excited about but it takes time, it takes resources, you know we are applying for grants and were trying to get partnerships and support and we’re doing pitches and all that stuff. And it just takes so much time and meanwhile there is a pandemic that makes traveling difficult and makes literally doing anything beyond getting out of bed and even getting out of bed, it makes that difficult too. And so I think we were just really just into this idea of like what is a film that we can tell right now. We don’t have to ask anyone elses permission, nobody else needs to like come on board at this point, we’ve got a camera, we’ve got the two of us, let’s go do something. And this was a very different process than a lot of the other projects that I work on where you know I think we would keep brainstorming “what do we need to tell this story?” but there was way less of that planning stage then I was use to and way less of that justation phase you have to do when you are pitching to other people and it was way more of kind of an organic process of kind of like let’s go and see what happens and then things kept falling like they were falling into place and we were like oh. Was it our first day filming when she kind of drives up on ledenzo’s lawn and he’s hesitant to get the vaccine and Dorothy has this amazing 45 minute conversation with him and by the end of it she convinces him to sign up and get the shot it was incredible to see that.

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