One In A Million... a million people live, work and play in upstate New York's Catskills region. These are their life stories... in their own words.
Series produced by Kent Garrett
Photo editing and website design by Ed Kirstein
Jessica Vecchione :
Movies about home
Jessica Vecchione Transcript:
On any given day when you come to upstate Hamden, New York, you’ll probably find Jessica Vecchione at her editing table with a cat on her lap or out in the Delaware County countryside with a video camera or organizing the Art and Soul of the Catskills Film Festival.
This is her story in her own words:
At the time I was living in Las Vegas, and my partner at the time was a professional poker player. All of the sudden the play that professionals did in the casino was turning to the internet in the late ‘90s. So when he went totally to the internet he could leave Las Vegas, which he hated anyway, the whole casino scene, you know. He was a games player, you know, a mathematician, a poker player, was not interested in the games or in the casinos. We could move immediately, so I suggested the Catskills. A friend of mine at the time who was back in New York said, “Have you looked at Delaware County?” I’d never been up that far.
So I came back east, and I went to a couple of real estate agents in Delaware County. I was stunned by the beauty of the county. I mean, I loved Ulster and Sullivan, but I mean, I felt like Delaware was just off the charts, so much more beautiful than the other counties. The prices were really great on beautiful little farmettes at the time. It was early summer 2011, and so I ended up finding a beautiful place. We bought it. We came, and three weeks later 9/11 happened.
Q – So at this time were you into films and video at that point or what?
I mean, I’d always been interested in it because my father was a photographer part-time. He was a newspaper photographer, and he did promotional photography for the Asbury Park Boardwalk where I grew up and did a lot of event photography. You know, I always went along with him and wrote names down and took drinks out of people’s hands and buttoned their jackets and gave them flashbulbs. Something you kiddies out there know nothing about. You know, I mean, I always loved promotion and that kind of a thing, but I’d never really gotten into photography.
I mean my father was into it. He always made movies, and his movies were great. His home movies were wonderful. He said to me once, “Honey, never shoot anything more than three seconds,” because you had to edit in the camera, you know, “and don’t wave it around,” you know. So his movies always had sort of a narrative arc, you know, our home movies. Anyway, that was my exposure to it.
But being up in Delaware County and having, you know, a pretty good computer, I got into things like Photoshop. Around 2000 was the time that this kind of software really became accessible to people like me. It started with slideshows and just taking pictures and putting slideshows to music and then getting a little bit more sophisticated with transitions and things like that and then getting a video camera and saying, okay, I’m going to just, you know, make little videos. I just made tons of little videos and drove my family absolutely insane.
Q – These were videos of your family?
Videos of my family. I had gone back to school, SUNY Oneonta, to finish a Spanish degree I’d started years ago, and I convinced the teacher to let me do some projects and submit them as videos. So I did a little video on Mexico City, and I’ll never forget it. It was a fun experience. I was on camera, so my friend had to shoot it. The teleprompter was a piece of paper taped to his head. After that I was trying to decide whether to go to grad school for Spanish literature in Albany. I had gotten accepted, and I had this movie thing. I just said, okay, I’m going to buy a more expensive camera—it was $1,000, this camera I bought—and I’m going to make a movie about Fleischmanns because I was so interested in the Mexican population.
The first time I lived in the Catskills was escaping New York City in ’86 to become a farmer, you know. I just wanted to learn to farm. I was a suburban girl. I was tired of the city, tired of advertising, and I went and I ended up farming for six years. I worked with Mexicans all the time out in the fields and learned to speak Spanish and really learned to admire their culture and admire the people and their hard work ethic. When I moved up here the Fleischmanns population, the Mexican population, that was a mystery to me. How did they get there, because it just wasn’t a place where an immigrant would normally go. There was no labor outlet, no farming.
So anyway, I said, I’m going to make a movie on Fleischmanns. So I sort of put all my resources into that for about a year, and it was fairly well-received, won a couple of awards. That sort of started my video career. At that point I said, you’ve got to make a decision, either go for it or don’t. At some point I met you, Kent, and you were a big reason that I stuck with it.
Q – Well, why’d you decide to go for it here rather than like New York or L.A.?
Well, I wasn’t thinking like that at all, you know. Now, I’ll tell you, I’ve thought a lot about it since because I have managed to build up a business, and it’s going well. I’m saying to myself, you know, I’m a big fish in a small pond, and it’s not a bad thing. I like it. I mean, I’ve been in the city. I’ve worked in advertising. I know what that kind of competition is like, and it doesn’t interest me that much. Up here you can really have very good personal relationships with people. You know, if you’re late 20 minutes, they’re going to understand. You know, it’s just I like doing business up here.
Q – I mean, is there enough work? Do you have big financial needs or—?
No, financial needs are much less than they would be in any urban area, and that is a big draw as well. There’s a lot less pressure, and you know, the business right now is reaching the point where people are utilizing video marketing a lot. So, you know, it’s building, and over the last five years it’s built to the point where I have a pretty steady flow because there are needs. You know, there are customers out there with needs for video.
Well, the film festival was—
Q – I mean, how’d it get started, I mean, basically?
When I did Fleischmanns I got my first taste of what film festivals were about. Everyone in the county loved the film, of course, it’s a regional film. I thought, okay, well now I’ll send it out to Sundance and this one and that one, which was just ridiculous. It did get into Hispanic film festivals. It actually won an award at the Orlando Hispanic Film Festival. It got into the Boston Latino International Film Festival.
What I learned was that the film festival circuit, you know, the ones that people know about, the Tribecas, those big film festivals, they’re not for regional films. They’re not for small, regional films. People like me, you know, you’re throwing away $90, you know, because chances are, and I found this out at workshops at other festivals, they’re not even going to look at it even though they claim they will look at it, not even Woodstock. You know, Woodstock rejected Fleischmanns as well, and it’s right in their backyard, you know. They would have been guaranteed an audience. So I thought a lot about this, and I said to myself—
Q – Why is that? I mean, are they after making money, or what’s their—?
Well, they’re interested in big films that are going to draw, you know, big people, which means films with a budget or well-connected films. You know, unless your artistic talent is just so, you know, devastating that you made the most incredible film as an independent filmmaker, it’s going to be really hard to get a viewing in some of these bigger festivals. I mean particularly something like Sundance, you know.
The funny thing is my second film, Robert, I was a lot more aware of what to do as far as film festivals. But also, I started looking at them three years later, and I noticed that, my god, Sundance had 3,000 entries when I entered Fleischmanns; last year they got 9,000. So, what’s happening? What’s happening is everybody’s making movies, and there are so many more people making movies and films and documentaries than there ever were. So what chance is the average person going to have to get into Sundance? Very little.
So it just got me to thinking, you know, there’s a lot of people out there like me that the most interesting subject in my opinion is what I know, is my region, the people that I know, you know, what’s happening around me. Frankly, those films are most interesting to the people around me, you know. I mean, they may have some carryover into the greater wide world, but my best audience is my regional audience. There’s a lot of other people like me, and they’re having the same trouble I am getting their films seen, you know, in venues at all.
So I said, you know what, we need a film festival. We have enough professionals out there making movies. We have students. I mean, these classes are being offered in grade school. Roxbury is offering classes. People are making films at a younger and younger age, so this year I said, let’s have a film festival that is regional, that really focuses in on regional films, films that everyone around here is going to want to see because it’s going to be about you.