JFI Announces 2015–16 Filmmaker in Residence: Melinda Hess

August 17, 2015

The 2015–16 JFI Filmmaker in Residence will be Melinda Hess, a Jewish artist, film editor and currently director and producer of documentary and hybrid interactive films. Hess comes to the JFI Filmmaker Residency program from the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society and will be working on the project Letters from Cloudcroft while at Ninth Street Independent Film Center.

About the Project:

Letter From Cloudcroft, a documentary film and it’s associated trans-media and installation project Constructed Memories, explore the intersection between the legacy of Holocaust slave labor and the celebrated American moon landing. The film examines the secret collaboration between the U.S. and captured German Nazis rocket scientists after WWII, resulting in the American space program & NASA. Revealed through two intertwined perspectives, one from a Jewish father writing letters as a 21 year old in 1946 to his parents during his Army assignment in the covert Project Paperclip. Seventy years later, the other from his daughter tracking incidents and leads from the letters, navigating through geographies of place that shape this story, unraveling the complexities of history, collective memory and personal narrative. Challenged by the writings of her father, the filmmaker confronts national & family beliefs, memories and values while questioning moral and ethical decisions of individuals and governments.

About the Filmmaker:

Melinda Hess is a Jewish artist, film editor and currently Director and producer of documentary and hybrid interactive films. As a

young filmmaker, at Kirkland Women’s College and then NYU, Melinda was drawn to documentaries believing they revealed “the truth.” Realizing the subjectiveness of “truth” and the potential to extend linear storytelling, Melinda augmented her story’s fullness by including tangential and related concepts a well as multiple POVs as storytelling threads. This understanding led to an artistic collaboration on her first interactive 16mm/ video disc project, “The Erlking,” exhibited at the 1987 Whitney Museum Biennial and The Beauborg, 1990. This seminal interactive art project ignited a deep interest in non-linear storytelling, building upon her passion for bringing hidden truths to light and shining it in potentially dark places.

From Melinda’s first documentary on the diaries of Pioneer Women of the West, she continues to tell a blend of personal compelling stories providing access to larger universal issues. Her career spans thirty years in film, video and interactive media. Beginning as a news cinematographer, Melinda became an analog film editor, editing award winning documentaries for PBS and associated independent producers. As Convivial Studio’s Director of Time-Based Media in the 1990’s Melinda dove deep into and guided all nonlinear media post-production. In New Mexico, Melinda focuses on art and cultural short-form web videos. While in New Mexico she serendipitously and ironically discovered her father’s 1946 letters from a top secret project in New Mexico to his German Jewish parents in NYC. This discovery inspired her telling a personal and national story of the American space race while connecting the dots between the Holocaust and the manned mission to the moon. This discovery ignited Melinda’s renewal of her Jewish identity and from that was born the hybrid, interactive and installation piece “Constructed Memories.”

Putting together a board of Jewish and space history advisors, Melinda Hess and Patricia Antelles have moved the project forward by participating in the NALIP Producer’s Institute in Santa Fe, professionally archived the letters which will be placed at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and The Center for Jewish History’s Leo Baeck Institute; received a New Mexico Film Office New Visions Award for their documentary treatment script; and received an NEH/NM humanities grant to produce a filmed symposium and live streamed event, opening the one sealed letter that inspired the film and cross-media projects. This NEH project received special designation as a 2012 New Mexico Centennial Project. In the spirit of transparency they have been given unprecedented access to archives and V-2 missile sites at White Sands Missile Range for research and filming scenes. In 2013 they participated in the Tribeca Film Insitute (TFI) Hackathon in San Francisco, developing their “Illuminated letter manuscripts” prototype. Since then have participated in other TFI Hackathon’s and won the 2015 Tribeca All Access Interactive Prototype grant award with Navajo filmmaker Ramona Emerson. Filmmaker hackathons and their participation in the Coco Conspiracy App Development Group has furthered their proficiency in taking films and interactive to the mobile screen.

Melinda is a board member of the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society.

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