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IC Documentarians

Story Teller

Photo by Scott McDermott ’97

At IC, Jesse Zook Mann ’02 and other students worked on a documentary about Ithaca’s Southside Community Center with former cinema professor Simon Tarr. Mann still finds neighborhoods intriguing as subject matter: “My primary focus,” he says, “is on community storytelling and making short fundraising documentaries for nonprofits.” Of the latter, he has shot about 10.

Last year Mann finished a 23-minute film on the Samish Indian Nation in Anacoutes, Washington, which in the 1970s had lost its recognition as an Indian nation—meaning that its members were stripped of their fishing rights, autonomous governance, and land rights—and was only recently re-recognized by the federal government. Members of the nation are dispersed throughout the United States, so the goal of the film was to tell the politically-charged story and introduce their culture to viewers.

Mann followed up the film with another on the cooking rituals of the Samish people. Fundraising trailers for nonprofits include Angels without Wings, on a successful gang rescue program in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that Mann is now working to make into his first feature-length film. He likes to do political and cultural docs, and the nonprofits for which he has worked reflect those interests: Long Island Free Space, a community center for radical politics that offers free education; and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.

Not everything Mann does is serious. He coproduced Paul Alien (2005), a satirical semidocumentary about Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, Microsoft cofounder and the third-richest man in America. (IC alumnus Alex Mayer ’88 was the lead producer, but generally works in fiction.) Shot over the course of a week, the film plays off Allen’s fascination with space travel and his plethora of real estate ventures that seem to take over the city—and jokingly claims to prove that billionaires are conspiring with extragalactic aliens to privatize the earth’s economy.

Mann also produced Splitting Hairs, about the World Beard and Mustache Championships in Germany; and The Wonderland Project, in which Mann followed two world-class runners up Mount Rainier. It aired on Seattle’s PBS affiliate.

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