After 7-years-old Jada lost her parents, the Department of Children and Family Services took her in. But understaffed and underfunded, Jada had few options for proper family placement.
So she ran away and lives alone on Venice Beach, making and selling stick people on the boardwalk to survive.
By following her through a day in her life, the story of who she is, why she is there, and who the man is that has come looking for her begins to unfold.
Q&A with Doug Roland
OMELETO: What made you want to tell this story or make this film? Why is it important to you?
DOUG ROLAND: The first draft of Jada came to me in one of those fortuitous flashes of inspiration, but it was heavily influenced by my move from NYC to Venice Beach, my fascination with the vibrant, eclectic, peculiar culture there, and a young child I often saw wandering the beach unattended. I was moved by the potential of a story about a child who from the outside seemed so ill-equipped to take care of herself, but had actuality found a way to do so through a combination of innocence and courage.
Jada is really important to me because it’s a reflection of all the wonderful people who worked on it, many of which graciously donated their time and talent.
OMELETO: What lessons did you learn while making this film (or any others) that had a positive effect on you or the project? How did that lesson happen?
DOUG ROLAND: The biggest lesson I learned from making Jada was that passion, perseverance, and a great team can overcome any challenge or obstacle. We were undermanned, underfunded, and had few resources at our disposal, but we had a core team who was tremendously passionate, and worked together to navigate any challenge that arose. Ultimately, a film with tiny budget (most of which went toward craft services) has been able to generate almost 15 million views on YouTube and counting (thanks to Omeleto!) and reach people across the globe. I credit much of the films authenticity to our team’s connected and creative spirit.
OMELETO: How did you become interested in filmmaking? What drew you to film specifically?
DOUG ROLAND: I always loved going to the movies, but it was when I had an opportunity to visit a Spielberg set in high school that I started to consider that I could actually make them. It was the set of Catch Me If You Can, and on the one hand it was larger than life – scores of crew running all over the place, Steven Spielberg talking with Tom Hanks between takes. But on the other hand, by having the opportunity to watch it happen firsthand, it really humanized and personalized the process for me. From there, I started making films in college and was immediately hooked.
OMELETO: What makes a film or story good or interesting to you?
DOUG ROLAND: I love films that feel like they come from a really personal and intuitive place, making them both wholly unique and universally relatable. I also really value films that aren’t just entertaining but also provide an opportunity to see something in a new way and expand the viewer’s awareness of cultures, people, and places different from his or her own.
OMELETO: How do you find your inspiration — or keep inspired when the process of getting a film made gets difficult or your energy or creativity feel sapped?
DOUG ROLAND: The process of making a film from idea to final cut is most sustainable and enjoyable when its inspiration penetrates to a core question or topic that demands to be explored. Then the whole journey becomes not just about executing an idea, but learning from the exploration of that topic, which, hopefully, an audience finds entertaining and valuable to explore as well.
OMELETO: What films or stories have been most inspiring or influential to you, and why?
DOUG ROLAND: I’m inspired by so many different stories but one filmmaker who continually inspires me is Paul Thomas Anderson… I know, I know, me and everyone else. But I love him because I feel like he’s always working from a really personal place and his work feels alive in a way that makes each of his films distinct, and creates a style distinct from anyone else.
OMELETO: What do you want audiences to take away from your body of work?
DOUG ROLAND: Ultimately, I want to tell stories that awareness, empathy, and connectedness. And, of course, I want them to be entertaining too!