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Naomi McDougall Jones Wants to Create a Better World Through Story
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Wednesday, September 1, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Naomi McDougall Jones believes our world could look very different if we just told different stories. And if we told stories differently.

That’s why the filmmaker/scriptwriter/actor has created Avalon: Story.

Jones has invited five storytellers to spend a week with her establishing an “incubator for the future of story” at Idaho Basecamp on Trail Creek Summit. And before they go they will share their own journey in storytelling and ideas for the future of story during a community conversation at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, outside on the Donaldson Robb Family Lawn at The Community Library.

“We hope members of the community will participate and generate even more ideas,” said Jones, who moved to the Wood River Valley with her husband after spending time here in the Hemingway Writer-in-Residence program in 2019.

Jones, who is also taking part in this week’s Conversations with Exceptional Women organized by the Alturas Institute, has written, produced and starred in such indie films as “Imagine I’m Beautiful,” which won 12 film festival awards, including four Best Pictures and three Best Actress Awards. Also, “Bite Me,” an award-winning romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her.

She also wrote “The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood,” which describes the impact on society when women’s voices are excluded from what she says is a sexist, cutthroat Hollywood system built to keep them out.

The Hollywood scene is one where white men are desperate to remain in power and so they exclude  women, people of color and others. The culture is one where everyone’s afraid someone is going to stab them in the back or that they’ll be thrown out of club, Jones said.

“You can’t tell a healthy story with that kind of mentality,” she added.

Jones has been entranced by the power of stories since her mother took her to a play when she was 4.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ ” she said. “What I’ve come to realize is how powerful story is, although it’s easy to confuse good storytelling with entertainment where you turn your brain off.”

There’s never been a civilization that didn’t have storytelling, Jones said.

“You think: Why do we as a species spend so much time telling stories? It’s part of our consciousness. It helps answer such questions as, ‘Why am I alive?’ and ‘Are you alive in the same way?’ Stories provide the framework to come to a collective understanding so who gets to tell these stories literally creates the framework for how we see the world.”

And that’s why we can’t just have white men tell the same story in the same way over and over, Jones said.

“If we can shift that story, we can look at something we can’t even imagine right now. It could be that our imagination been stunted all these years, but if we could cultivate our imagination, we could have six different people write a fictional account of what 2030 could look like. If we can imagine it, we can make it happen. If we can’t imagine it, we can’t make it happen.”

Social media has made it easier to bypass Hollywood as anyone can make content and place it on YouTube, Jones said. And that in turn makes it easier to create a new media ecosystem that has inclusivity at its core instead of as an afterthought.

“In creating, we can create a different culture,” Jones said.

It won’t happen overnight, she acknowledges: “What’s required is a center of practice that can create  processes for this new order of storytellers.”

Next week’s gathering is just a start. Jones’ dream is to build a physical center in the Wood River Valley where people can come for workshops, exploring such topics as how to reimagine a new vision for indie films.

She handpicked her first group, picking storytellers who are pushing the edges of boundaries.

Charlene Sanjenko, for instance, is a Canadian who asks what indigenous looks like in cinema. Her tendency is not to create a linear story but, rather one that is more circular. Catherine Eaton received an Emmy for “The Human Toll of Ethanol” and two dozen additional awards for her soon-to-debut “The Sounding.”

Cidney Hue, who founded NYC Women Filmmakers, is focused on building inclusive futures through science fiction. Taryn O’Neill, is passionate about developing #newnarratives that will inspire people to tackle global challenges. And Emmy-nominated producer Sarah Springer teaches about intersectional parity, inclusion and accurate representation in the media at the University of Southern California.

All plan to collaborate on a story that could be told through any number of mediums—even Tik Tok.

Those who participate in this and other workshops will be asked to write an essay or produce a video highlighting what they’ve learned. They also will be asked to report back how the ideas pan out in the real world. These essays and videos will be catalogued so that the public can glean from them.

Jones drew on her Scottish background to name her incubator.

“My mother is Scottish—she came to Dartmouth. And Avalon is a mystical, magical place,” she said. “I like that metaphor where people can be in a sacred space where they can reimagine things.”

 

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