J. Christian Jensen, director of White Earth: 2014 Heartland Film Festival Interview

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J. Christian Jensen entered the media profession as a journalist – a passion that lead to work as a documentary filmmaker.  Early in his career he worked on a variety of non-fiction productions including ones for National Geographic Film & Television, PBS “FRONTLINE” and “American Experience.”  He also worked on a film at a remote leprosy (i.e. Hansen’s Disease) colony on Kalaupapa, Hawaii. While studying media arts as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, Christian wrote and directed a broadcast-length documentary called Sou da Bahia [I’m from Bahia] about art and Afro-Brazilian identity in Northeastern Brazil. He co-curated a multiple medium art exhibit by the same name to accompany the film’s premier throughout the U.S. and Latin America.

Having lived or worked in Brazil, China, and India Christian is interested in films that explore stories in newly industrialized nations. He is also fascinated by topics of spirituality, science, technology and their collision with modern society. He has worked in a variety of production roles over the years but his most recent professional work has been as a non-fiction editor and producer for television and web outlets. Christian has shot and directed several documentary shorts over the past two years at Stanford University where he recently completed his graduate studies in the MFA Program in Documentary Film & Video.

HFF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

JCJ: The film is about a North American oil boom seen through unexpected eyes. It was my thesis film in Stanford University’s graduate documentary film program, but I came to the idea when my father told me about a mass exodus of workers from my native southern Utah. They were all moving to North Dakota for work in the oil fields.

HFF: What was your role in the production?

JCJ: I directed, produced, shot and edited the film.

HFF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

JCJ: I’ve been aware of Heartland’s reputation for several years now and was eager for a chance to mix with values-aware filmmakers who are producing stellar work.

HFF: This year’s tagline is “Shift Your Perspective” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

JCJ: I’m not interested in telling audiences what to think, but if my film strikes up a thoughtful conversation, ignites a debate, or gives people a more empathetic look at someone far different than themselves, I’d be thrilled.

HFF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

JCJ: In high school I wanted to be a journalist, but I caught the creative bug dabbling in theatre and music. Documentary was the perfect confluence of “real” life and dramatic constructs. It had all the elements that fascinated me. I think documentary is by far the most interesting genre to be working in right now.

HFF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now but you weren’t told when you started your career?

JCJ: If you want to be a truly great filmmaker, read a lot of great literature.

HFF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

JCJ: Like basically every other filmmaker under the age of 40, I was hugely inspired by George Lucas’ Star Wars. James Longley has a small body of documentary work, but it really struck a chord at the right time for me. Creatively, I’m completely fascinated by Werner Herzog’s films, and I’m in love with almost everything Terrence Malick has ever made. I recently re-watched Spice World. That movie totally holds up; it’s brilliant.

HFF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

JCJ: Around 30 festivals around the world . . . I’ve lost precise count. I love it when people have an emotional reaction to my film and I can see it in their body language.

HFF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

JCJ: I love it when people ask about music and sound design. I feel like it’s so under-appreciated in cinema.


See White Earth in Festival Award Shorts 1 at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival:

  • Friday, Oct. 17 – 11:00 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, Oct. 17 – 4:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Saturday, Oct. 18 – 10:15 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Sunday, Oct. 19 – 12:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Tuesday, Oct. 21 – 4:00 p.m. at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Wednesday, Oct. 22 – 4:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, Oct. 24 – 8:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Saturday, Oct. 25 – 5:00 p.m. at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
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