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Film highlights families

Tori Roeck | Thursday, November 1, 2012

The documentary “Project Hopeful” first premiered at the 23rd Annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival in January 2012. In just 10 months, the film has been accepted to more than 15 national and international festivals, earning “Best Picture” at the RE:IMAGE Film Festival 2012 and second place at the LA New Wave International Film Festival 2012, among other honors.

2012 graduates Kelsie Kiley and Grace Johnson created the film, which follows three families from Joliet, Il.: the Twietmeyers, Heims and Allens, who have doubled the size of their families by adopting orphans with HIV/AIDS. The families then created Project Hopeful, a non-profit organization trying to provide homes and support for children with HIV/AIDS.

“The premise of our story is just to give you a glimpse into their everyday lives and how manageable these diseases are,” Kiley said.

The documentary was a project for professor Ted Mandell’s documentary production class, Kiley said.

“Grace and I both knew that we wanted to create a social change documentary, so we began searching for positive human interest stories that might fit what we were looking to create,” she said.

When the two found out about Project Hopeful, Kiley said they knew this was a message they wanted to spread.

“We have helped to get so much press and recognition for this non-profit, and that has become the greatest accomplishment,” she said. “This reflects our greatest goal, which is to find more homes and families for more children and to spread awareness about how manageable it is to live with HIV/AIDS. Spreading this message has been such a blessing for us, and hearing how many people it has affected is more than we could have ever imagined.”

Johnson said the idea of the documentary was to let these families’ stories shine through without manipulating them in any way.

“We aimed to let the stories of the families speak for themselves,” Johnson said. “That is why we are so proud of this project because it feels real and a truly unobstructed account of their lives.”

Kiley said she and Johnson didn’t have to do much to show how special these families truly are.

“We didn’t want anyone to feel like we were trying to make these people seem inspirational,” she said. “They do all of that on their own.”
Kiley and Johnson received the Broad Avenue Filmmakers Award, a grant through the Film, Television and Theatre Department, to fund “Project Hopeful,” Kiley said.

“We truly couldn’t have made this film or had it seen on such a grandiose level, if it wasn’t for the FTT Department,” Kiley said.

Because the grant enabled them to use professional equipment, Kiley said she and Johnson realized the potential the film had for reaching wide audiences.

“After the first day of shooting, I think we realized how much good this film could do,” she said. “We had the power to use professional equipment to make a film that could be seen across the country, spreading news about these inspirational families and their incredible work. Our hope was that we could create something that would be meaningful, but not manipulating.”

Even though Kiley has a job at Lionsgate Films and Jax Media and Johnson works at Bravo, Kiley said they plan to make a sequel to “Project Hopeful.”

“We are currently in pre-production for a follow-up documentary. Our working title right now is ‘Adopted: The Project Hopeful Story,’ where we will be following the Twietmeyers and the Heims as they both travel to Ukraine this fall and winter to adopt more children for their already amazing families,” she said.

Johnson said she would like to see more Notre Dame film students help out with the sequel.

“Whether a joint venture between current documentary students at Notre Dame or another solo project, we’re hoping to receive assistance or funding in capturing more moments with these families as they continue to build their families and assist children in need,” Johnson said.

To learn more about “Project Hopeful,” visit www.projecthopefulmovie.com