Cutting-edge food production meets meaningful employment for people with disabilities.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Jennifer Tennican
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thanks! For me, Hearts of Glass represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share a story of possibilities unfolding in my own backyard. The journey of this unique and ambitious agricultural startup and the people involved with it shows that innovation and inclusion can go hand-in-hand, benefiting citizens with disabilities and the community at large. I wanted to share a big inspirational concept coming from my small town in rural Wyoming.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
You should watch it to be transported. This is as close to being part of a high-tech agricultural startup and social experiment as many of us will ever get. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s set in a jaw-dropping location with extreme weather and seasonal demand. The film will expose you to nuanced portraits of people with disabilities. I believe it will challenge your perceptions about abilities, the benefits of meaningful employment and the power of inclusion.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I think everyone can relate to wanting to be part of and contribute to a community. Unfortunately, opportunities to fully participate in and contribute to society are not a given for people with disabilities. In the film, we see Kyle, Mycah, Johnny, Zac and Ty as visible and vital contributors to Vertical Harvest and as members of the Jackson community. Several of them are working far more hours than they ever have in the past at other jobs; they all have opportunities for advancement and are learning transferrable skills. I hope the film will remind us of the economic and social benefits of meaningful employment and community inclusion.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
My previous documentaries were retrospective, so Hearts of Glass was a very different experience. So much about Vertical Harvest was new – the greenhouse, the technology in the greenhouse, the employment model – and unfolding in the moment. We had to constantly assess and reassess storylines and the characters we were following. I found it stressful and am very glad that part is over.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We’ve received a great deal of positive feedback. Everyone seems to appreciate how we’ve developed the story arcs of each of the featured employees and woven those in with the story of the business. People seem to appreciate the humor in the film and the fact that the story is inspiring but real. Folks are drawn into the story and really pulling for the business and the people to succeed. Many viewers feel the film is not only entertaining but educational in terms of disability advocacy, social entrepreneurship and vertical farming.
Also, we frequently get thanked for making a real AND uplifting documentary. There’s a lot of timely, heavy and depressing topics being addressed in the world of film, so we happy to bring hope and inspiration into the mix.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
When you look at the greenhouse – the multi-story glass facade, the carousels, the hydroponic system – the cutting-edge aspects seem clear. What I didn’t realize was the cutting-edge aspects of the employment model. Some of the feedback from people working on disability employment issues surprised us in a good way. We were told the film is full of great examples of the main themes they deal with regularly, such as customized employment, the experience of families, self-determination and creatively addressing employment for people with significant disabilities.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Most filmmakers want their works to been seen and to have an impact. Visibility on We Are Moving Stories allows us to get beyond the Tetons (our local mountain range). Since we’re very early in the film’s distribution life, we’re excited to reach as many viewers and get as much feedback as possible. It will be exciting to see whom the film is resonating with and how our outreach and engagement campaign will evolve.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We’re about mid-way through our festival run, so we’d love festival directors and journalists to come onboard. We’re also creating a grassroots outreach and engagement campaign, so we’re excited to connect with organizations, companies and people aligned with the film’s themes around innovation, inclusion and employment opportunities.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The challenge and opportunity with Hearts of Glass is the complexity of its topics – disability advocacy, social entrepreneurship, high-tech vertical farming and sustainable local food production. I have come to believe that these thematic intersections are an opportunity to create new communities and connections. I want viewers to be swept up by the momentum and, at times, the chaos of this startup; I want viewers to appreciate the nuances of each character’s personality; and, I want viewers to be inspired by how one Wyoming community is dealing with pressing social and environmental issues.
I hope Hearts of Glass will inspire other innovative projects across the country and around the world.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What do you believe Vertical Harvest gained through the practice of hiring people with disabilities?
Why is inclusion and meaningful, competitively-paid work important to people with disabilities and the community at large?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am putting all my current efforts into developing a robust outreach and engagement campaign for "Hearts of Glass." I’m excited to take the film out in the world and share its message about the value of meaningful employment and inclusion. I hope the film will inspire more outside-the-box thinking about social and environmental issues in the Mountain West and beyond.
Interview: April 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Hearts of Glass
Cutting-edge food production meets meaningful employment for people with disabilities.
Director: Jennifer Tennican
Producer: Jennifer Tennican and Marni Walsh
Writer: Trask McFarland, Jennifer Tennican, Marni Walsh
About the writer, director and producer:
JENNIFER TENNICAN began her documentary career in the late 1990s working on NOVA science programs for WGBH with independent producers in the Boston area. Since moving to Wyoming in 2002, she has focused on local projects and storytelling. Her films explore identity, inclusion and community, and although they are rooted in Jackson Hole, they resonate far beyond the mountain west. Ms. Tennican’s award-winning work, including The Stagecoach Bar: An American Crossroads and Far Afield: A Conservation Love Story, has been featured in numerous film festivals and distributed nationally by American Public Television.
Key cast: Ty Warner (Self), Johnny Fifles (Self), Mycah Miller (Self), Kyle Burson (Self), Zac Knudsen (Self), Nona Yehia (Self), Caroline Croft Estay (Self), Joelle Lazzareschi (Self)
Looking for: distributors, journalists
Facebook: Hearts of Glass
Hashtags used: #AbilityWorks #Disability #DisabilityRights #Inclusion #SocialImpact #Community #SocialEntrepreneurship #CultivateAbility #VerticalFarming #LocalFood #OutsideTheBox #Diversity
Funders: Our nonprofit fiscal sponsor for distribution, outreach and engagement is the NACDD. Previously, during production, our nonprofit fiscal sponsor was Slow Food in the Tetons. We ran two crowdfunding campaigns – one with Seed&Spark and one with Indiegogo. We have over 350 supporters including the following granting organizations: Wyoming Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Wyoming Humanities, Wyoming Arts Council, First Interstate BancSystem Foundation, Center of Wonder and Puffin Foundation.
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? Julien Dubuque International Film Festival/Dubuque, Iowa - 4/25, 4/27, 4/28; Black Hills Film Festival/Hill City and Hot Springs, South Dakota - 5/4 and 5/5