*By Nick Christophers
Sometimes inspiration can arise from the most unpredictable places. This would be the case for award winning director Jenna Constantine. Jenna hails from the windy city of Chicago, Illinois. There is where her inspiration arose. As a young girl she was introduced to film through her beloved grandfather Kosta. Her grandfather was a day laborer but at night he turned into what he loved most, an actor. This was all Jenna needed to forge her future in the film industry. At first she went on to complete her B.A. from North Central College and PhD in Social Psychology from Northwestern University and then tackled the industry.
As Jenna grew into a lady she learned to admire many key film directors in her day. Directors like Robert J. Flaherty, father of the documentary genre (Nanook of the North), Elia Kazan (The Arrangement), Costa- Gavras (Z), Martin Ritt (Hud, The Brotherhood), Luchino Visconti (Il Gattopardo), Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander), Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List), Barbra Streisand (The Prince of Tides, Yentl), Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King), Francis Ford Coppola (Tucker: the Man and His Dream), Barbara Trent (Iran Contra Affair), Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window) and Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life, You Can’t Take It With You, It Happened One Night).
Jenna went ahead and began to pave her own way in the film industry but being a woman is and can be a difficult road. She in turn joined an innovative movement called “WOMEN IN FILM”. The organization is a non for profit that is dedicated to assisting women to succeed in their goals within the film, communication and media industries. It was founded in 1973 and offers an extensive network of contacts, educational programs, scholarships, funding for films, employment opportunities, mentorship’s and many other services associated with its mission.
“It isn’t easy out here on the street! Independent filmmaking can be a very lonely biz. Especially for a woman. The contacts and friendships I’ve forged by joining “Women in Film” have been invaluable. Women in film supporting other women in film. How cool is that?! Join!”
Besides being a member of this prestigious club Jenna also went on to host her own show entitled “Jenna Round the Vineyard”. The concept arose from Martha’s Vineyard and Jenna took it to another level. The location beckons too many interesting individuals be it celebrities or tourists. Jenna wanted to target this audience and offer the “inside scoop” of the Vineyard. The show was a success for the time frame it was on air Jenna soon returned back to Chicago to work on other projects.
Her talents have also been passed on to her children Evyenia and Athanasios. Both her companies JADE Entertainment and KaplaniKid Productions (www.kaplanikid.com ) are family run business. Her daughter and son are both involved in their success. Her daughter Evyenia is a product of The New York’s American Musical & Dramatic Academy who was the lead in Jenna’s highly acclaimed film “A SICILIAN ODYSSEY” (www.asicilianodyssey.com). One of Evyenia’s major accomplishments was being the co-narrator in a documentary called “Stolen Childhoods” with Meryl Streep in 2005. The character Nikki Barry her personality called for someone who displays an inner innocence and youthful enthusiasm.
Jenna knew after holding auditions for over 100 young talented ladies that her daughter was perfect for the role. Evyenia was hesitant at first to be apart of the film since she would have to deal with her mother’s expectations. But Jenna reminded her that if the Bridges, Hustons, Coppola’s and Douglas’ can do it why can’t the Constantines’. Besides being a working actress she heads her own casting company C-Square Casting. She is going to co-produce the sequel to A SICILIAN ODYSSEY II.
Jenna’s son Athanasios (“Nas”) has proven to be an asset on the set always offering his input. His talents lay in his comical character that has developed him in a stand-up comedian who writes his own material. He also completing his studies in Oceanography and working on his pilot license. Also aboard is her other daughter Demetra who is a Sergeant in the US Air Force. According to Jenna, Demetra is a talented writer who donates her knowledge to the company.
Jenna has been fortunate enough to win a few awards during her time in the industry.
“My film work has won me 5 awards so far, domestically and internationally, but the sweetest one is the most recent one, BEST BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARY FILM AWARD from the New York International Film Festival for A SICILIAN ODYSSEY.”
The film “SICILIAN ODYSEEY” derives from the question “How far would you travel to find your way home?”
A SICILIAN ODYSSEY was inspired by a true love story. It’s an epic adventure of a young woman’s daring voyage, a magical place called Sicily, a mysterious treasure, a mother’s secret, a curious key, a surprisingly intimate portrait of Sicily and Sicilians destiny, the discovery of a lifetime and coming of age. The film centers around Nikki Barry a young successful American writer who reluctantly travels to a place called Sicily to search for a mysterious treasure with a magical keychain she receives as a birthday gift from her mother.
Yet she discovers that it unlocks her mother’s deepest secret. The people of Sicily, who befriend Nikki Barry as she wanders through Sicily’s parallel universe, guide her to the treasure that will reveal a destiny that changes her life forever. The film captures and delivers the soul and heart of the island that was never offered before.
“When I started this project over 2 ½ years ago, if you Googled the word “Sicilian,” the first links that popped up were references to the Mafia. I wanted to make a film that would change that and make a difference. Google now and you will link up with a film about a magical place called Sicily and her beautiful Sicilian sons and daughters….who are filled with friendship, love of life and hospitality… and who are so very much more than the Mafia stereotype we’ve historically been presented cinematically.” The art of film in general can present many facets of any location with either its true essence or one that it is only known as. Sicily is a captive island that has a magical and rich culture. This film depicts the inner Sicilian spirit.
As a Greek, Jenna contributes much of her success in the industry on her upbringing. Her grandfather always told her to strive for the best and reach for that “golden moment”. She admits that her grandfather’s generation was “one of a kind”. Jenna wants to be a testament to that generation. Jenna makes note that there are not many Greek women in film sometimes due to the Greek men in their life. Jenna does admit that answering this question my draw some heat from the Greek community but she welcomed it with open arms.
“Athens is named after a woman, a warrior…the goddess Athena. The Greek island where my grandfather was born also claims the powerful goddess Hera, Zeus’ wife. There was a time when the gods and the goddesses were equals. Yes, I am well aware that these are mythological stories, but these stories forged the personality of a people, their culture and ways of seeing the world and the men and women who lived in it. Now what we have are men who would be gods and legends in their own minds and no more goddesses. We have men who like to brag about the bare breasted Minoan woman who took the bulls by their horns and rode them, but put them face-to-face with that kind of a woman today and they’ll just stare at her bare breasts, run like hell or call her names. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been told by Greek-American men that filmmaking is man’s work….this from poor unenlightened creatures who think a Canon XL2 is used in a military assault, don’t know the difference between back light and a stoplight, and think a green screen is a room divider.
What a great surprise it was for me to discover all over Sicily that Sicilian men and women have gender blindness when it comes to filmmaking and creating art. In every province there were Sicilian men and women who opened up every possible door I needed to shoot this film and it mattered not one bit that I was a woman. It never even entered into the equation. Now that’s something to talk about!”
If Jenna feels like she would want to leave any legacy behind it would be that an artist can make a difference in this world. She believes that an artist can be an artist regardless of their gender especially in filmmaking. Her grandfather instilled that in her and she wishes to carry that over.
Currently, Jenna is in pre-production with the second installment of “SICILIAN ODYSSEY II” as well as a feature project that delves into the private lives of some “very special” women. That’s all she will offer for now, but it is an area that no female filmmaker has crossed before. Besides this she has been asked to co-produce and direct a couple of other projects, so the horizon for Jenna Constantine is bright.