Produced by CU Boulder grads, new movie Sophie Jones deals with the loss of normalcy
The new feature film Sophie Jones is described as a deeply quiet, authentic and subtly sardonic exploration of the eponymous teenager’s grief following the death of her mother.
Her sister seems to be doing fine and her father is ready to date. But Sophie just wants to feel again, and thinks sexual intimacy might be the key. But grief is not bound by societal expectations, and the film refuses to judge or titillate, opting instead for an emotionally honest portrayal of a young woman who is learning what it means to love and be human.
Though scheduled to premiere at the Portland International Film Festival in March and make its Colorado debut at the Vail Film Festival in April, the movie is now biding its time, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Suddenly, like so many people around the world, co-producers Lindsey Friedman Guerrero and Joe Dinnen, graduates of the University of Colorado Boulder, found themselves experiencing their own feelings of loss and grief over what might have been.
“I think at first we were of course sad not to have that moment, not premiering in the city where it was shot,” says Guerrero (EnvSt’13), who now lives in Santa Barbara, California. “We worked so hard on this, doing it every day for two-plus years.”
“I needed a few days to process and feel my feelings,” says Dinnen (Film’13), of New York City. “I think I went through the seven stages of grief. Some days I’m accepting, some days angry, some days straight-up sad, some days denying it.”
But both recognize how fortunate they are to have a completed film that will reach its audience once social restrictions ease, while many projects have been canceled or postponed indefinitely and thousands of people are now out of work.
“When it does screen at the Vail Film Festival, and we’ll do something in Portland, I know those moments are going to be 100 times more incredible than an ordinary premiere,” Guerrero says. “We will have made it through the storm, and it will be exciting to celebrate.”
Guerrero got her start in film working on the Academy Award-nominated 2012 documentary Chasing Ice while still at CU; Chasing Ice focused on the work of nature photographer and CU Boulder alumnus James Balog. Dinnen worked as her intern and both knew they wanted to continue working in film production.
Guerrero worked on environmental media, got into talent management, and started her own creative agency and production company, The Sounding Board. Dinnen began producing series and advertising campaigns, and supervised post-production for projects, including the popular Showtime series, “Billions.”
In 2018, Dinnen was approached by writer and director Jessie Barr, for whom he’d produced a 2017 short film, with the script that would become Sophie Jones, written by her cousin, Jessica Barr. He pitched the project to Guerrero, who loved it.
“I got involved because I was really moved by the story,” she says. “I’d recently lost someone very dear to me, my best friend from CU, a few months before. … It spoke to me on so many levels, and I was looking to work with a female director and female writer to make something that felt real and relatable onscreen, visiting a world that felt new.”
She met with Jessie Barr, who had worked on her cousin’s script to make it “camera ready,” in spring 2018. They began raising money for production and brought on New York-based Scott Miller as director of photography that summer.
“It truly resonated with everyone we talked to. People really wanted to work on the film,” Dinnen says.
Guerrero handled on-the-ground production in Portland—scouting locations, hiring vendors and crew.
I love Colorado so much. Boulder is a hub for documentaries, I think it’s so awesome that Joe and I met at (CU) Boulder. This is a story of people collaborating, despite not living in the same city, on something awesome."
“Sometimes it’s really hard to pinpoint what a producer does, especially on an independent film,” she says. “We were all super heavily involved. I was doing everything from making pasta to use in a scene to fundraising and line producing.”
So, as long as we’re on the subject, inquiring (and often puzzled) filmgoers want to know: What, exactly, does a producer do?
“It’s a high-level thing,” Dinnen says. “You take the creative vision and use tools to actually, tactically make it a reality on the ground. Directors and writers have an idea in mind, but they don’t know logistically how to get from point A to point B. The ultimate goal of a producer is to help them do that creatively, on schedule, on budget.”
“I’d say it’s multi-disciplinary. That’s the key, being able to handle a ton of different aspects of a film at different stages. You have to be resourceful and adaptable,” Guerrero says.
Everyone knew they had something special once production was underway. Critics given a peek at the finished film praised Jessie Barr’s direction, Miller’s cinematography, the script and Jessica Barr’s acting in the lead role, among other things.
“Sophie Jones is a lovely film. Moving, confident and unusual,” says Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director Nicole Holofcener. “I love Jessie Barr's direction, the quiet of the film and the compelling performances. ... Jessie Barr has made a terrific first feature. I look forward to seeing what she does next.”
Despite the impact on plans to unveil the movie, the co-producers say the pandemic has made the film’s powerful exploration of loss and grief even more poignant.
“It’s a movie about loss. Sophie loses not only her mother, but she loses friends and a sense of normalcy,” Dinnen says. “With COVID-19, we’re all in a position where what was normal is no longer. Different people cope in different ways, and the way that Sophie goes through her loss is something you can relate to.”
Guerrero and Dinnen now live on opposite coasts, but both say Boulder and CU influenced them and helped them get a foothold in a notoriously difficult industry to crack.
“I definitely left a part of my heart in Boulder,” Dinnen says. “It’s literally the only place besides New York City where I would live.”
“I love Colorado so much. Boulder is a hub for documentaries,” Guerrero says. “I think it’s so awesome that Joe and I met at (CU) Boulder. This is a story of people collaborating, despite not living in the same city, on something awesome.”