Warning: *Spoilers ahead*
You might want to keep a box of tissues close by for this one, Victoria.
Jessica Earnshaw, a Vancouver Island-born filmmaker, brings us a story of hope, perseverance, and the powerful love between a mother and a daughter.
And as of Friday, June 23rd, Earnshaw’s documentary JACINTA is available for streaming on Star/Disney+ in Canada.
Presented by ABC News and Impact Partners, this film follows a young woman named Jacinta and her journey through the challenges of addiction while attempting to reconnect with the daughter she had to leave behind.
The documentary is described as a “genuine and deeply personal storytelling that offers a unique perspective on the effects of trauma over generations,” and provides an “unprecedented glimpse into Jacinta’s life” as well as those around her.
In an interview with Earnshaw for Victoria Buzz, we were able to get an inside scoop into the making of the film as well as the triumphs and challenges that came with such a daunting project.
“I had gotten a grant to photograph aging in prison,” Earnshaw said, detailing the beginning stages of her photojournalism project at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine.
“Jacinta and her mother were incarcerated there when I met them.”
At first, Earnshaw’s main focus wasn’t on anyone in particular, but rather the convoluted lives of these women who were often misunderstood — the problem simply being blamed on the person rather than digging at the root of the issue.
“One of the women there had said to me ‘We’ll never end addiction until we deal with the trauma beneath it’,” Earnshaw said.
“These women were incredible…it seemed like the wrong place for them.”
Earnshaw was particularly taken by the amount of young women incarcerated for drug use, and in getting to know her subjects for her photo essay, she got to know Jacinta — the daughter of Rosemary, one of the inmates she’d been interviewing.
She was enamored with Rosemary and Jacinta’s story and their own separate journeys that had brought them to where they were.
After continuing to get to know the two women, Earnshaw’s ideas began to grow and she knew that Jacinta and Rosemary had their own story to tell.
Especially Jacinta who, at the time, was set to be released from prison in a couple of months.
She published her initial photojournalistic piece titled, Aging Inmates: Photographer Shines Light on Loneliness and Isolation in National Geographic and immediately jumped into what would become one of her biggest projects yet.
Shortly after this new project took form, she decided to expand her parameters by documenting the interview with Jacinta and Rosemary using a video camera.
Rather than photography and transcribed interviews alone, she wanted to capture their dynamic and relationship on film. From here, Earnshaw’s vision blossomed.
“I decided to abandon my idea of a photo essay and just focus on them.”
Initially, she had asked Jacinta about filming a short documentary — meaning to capture this young woman’s road to recovery upon her release from the facility.
However, the film took a different turn once Jacinta relapsed. They decided to continue with the project, though the original vision shifted once again.
Earnshaw described it as “bearing witness” and the new importance it held once she began to dig deeper into intergenerational trauma and the complexity of addiction.
“They [have] so many friends and relatives who have died of addiction, so they were like, if we can save someone else, we’re going to do this,” Earnshaw said.
“So, that was the reason [we] continued filming after it turned into a film that was no longer going to be about recovery in the way that we thought it would be in the beginning.”
It was shot over three years, Earnshaw having to take her own precautions in her approach to ensure everyone was getting what they needed.
Boundaries were set and Earnshaw put herself through trauma therapy to digest what she was witnessing in a healthy way.
“It was very intense…there were moments where…it was so much.”
But she was invested and vowed to keep going — her developing friendship with Jacinta off-camera served as another reminder as to why she was doing it.
And the dedication paid off!
Her hope to bring Jacinta and Rosemary’s story to life and bring recognition to their struggle and experiences has been well received.
So far, the documentary has gained widespread acclaim, including winning the top award at Tribeca Film Festival, and the Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director.
Additionally, the documentary was a New York Times Critic’s Pick and has received great reviews in Variety, WSJ, and The Hollywood Reporter.
Most importantly, they had a wide range of people reaching out with their support and heartwarming messages about what the film meant to them and their families.
“People started processing their own trauma through the film…I was getting tons of letters.”
And that is the message that she hopes will live on, that there is hope in recovery and a duty as people to withhold judgment and take a look at the root of the problem.
“Everyone has a story, and these stories are not uncommon.”
“It’s very easy to judge…we don’t want to look [at people] who use…by not looking they stay in the shadows and that’s where they die.”
Earnshaw is happy to inform audiences that Jacinta has been sober for over two years and is doing incredible.
“She’s been very inspiring to a lot of people…Jacinta did turn it around.”
There’s a social impact campaign attached to the film with a focus on mothers and children of the incarcerated if you wish to help take action.
The film has also served as a training guide for different departments and educational institutions for spreading awareness and opening positive dialogues around addiction and the impacts of incarceration on families.