From a mother’s meeting with her child’s killer to a genocide survivor’s decision to turn away from vengeance, Risking Light explores the act of forgiving the unforgivable. What would our lives be like if forgiveness, not revenge, were the way of the world? We ask you to be a part of the answer.
About The Project
From the director, Dawn Mikkelson:
Five years ago, I met Mary Johnson and O’shea Israel. That meeting changed my life. As a documentary filmmaker for over a decade, I had often experienced the power that one person’s story can have on audiences. Yet this story was different. Mary’s profoundly personal decision to forgive her son’s killer, and O’shea’s decision to take responsibility for his actions and become Mary’s honorary son, had not only changed their lives, but the lives of millions. After our first interview and subsequent web video (which won The Pachamama “Possible Futures” Award for a short film), their story was picked up by national and international media. People asked, “How could she forgive him?!” and stated, “I could never do such a thing.” But is that true?
This response led me to seek other stories from around the globe of others who had forgiven the unforgivable. I met Khmer Rouge survivor Kilong Ung and learned of his decision to forgive his family’s murderers, even after being offered the opportunity to take revenge. After an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign that surpassed our fundraising goal, as well as foundation support from the Fetzer Institute, our crew traveled to Cambodia and eventually Australia, where we learned the stories of two members of Australia’s Aboriginal Stolen Generations. And everywhere, we interviewed average people off the street whose stories varied from everyday forgiveness to profound struggles with the very idea of forgiveness.
Upon returning to the United States, it became clear that the stories we collected were more powerful and complex than we had imagined. After multiple edits and iterations, the stories emerged, not only as a feature documentary, but as three short films (profiling our core stories in the U.S., Cambodia, and Australia) AND a series of web videos. It also became clear that this project needed to meet audiences where they are, so that people everywhere can hear these stories, whether through traditional broadcast and film festivals, or online, or as part of educational campaigns.
Since that time, we’ve been refining our films and videos, as well as assembling a team who can launch these stories, through partnerships with NGO and media partners, to reach a much broader and more diverse audience than we had originally envisioned.
A successful campaign will allow us to complete a documentary feature film, as well as 3 half-hour documentaries, 12+ web videos, and a social media campaign to inspire forgiveness in audiences and the world.
As a filmmaker, I’ve seen each one of my films reach that stage where they take on a life of their own: where the film becomes more than a creative or artistic vision, but has a life and a community that surpasses anything I would have imagined. This is that moment for Risking Light.
About This Team
Dawn Mikkelson (Director/Producer/Editor)
A 2015 Emmy Award Winner and 2010 McKnight Filmmaking Fellow,
Mikkelson has shown her work on PBS and international festivals including the Galway Film Fleadh, Cambridge Film Festival, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Leipzig DOK Market, and Washington DC Environmental Film Festival. Mikkelson has completed four award-winning independent feature documentaries, The Red Tail, Green Green Water, THIS obedience, and Treading Water: a documentary, all of which illuminate larger societal issues while creating understanding through the intimate stories of individuals. A former television news reporter, Mikkelson often speaks and writes for MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) and produces for TPT (Twin Cities Public Television). Mikkelson is the founder of Emergence Pictures, a documentary production company based in Minnesota. Mikkelson has taught Documentary Film as Adjunct Faculty at Ottawa University in Kansas and IFP Minnesota. In 2006 Mikkelson’s film, Hope for Recovery: Understanding Mental Illness won the Eric Sevareid Award by the Northwest Broadcast News Association (NBNA).
Miranda Wilson (Producer)
Miranda Wilson is an Emmy-nominated producer and fundraiser with a background in radio, television, politics, and content strategy. Her production work has appeared on Sundance Channel, Food Network, and public television. Miranda considers herself a recovering politico, having worked in various capacities on multiple federal campaigns, including as Finance Director for Keith Ellison for U.S. Congress.
Lu Lippold (Consulting Producer)
Lu’s media career encompasses work as a documentary filmmaker, producer, writer/editor, and journalism professor. Her films have screened on public television, at the Walker Art Ceter, and at numerous festivals including the San Francisco Asian American, MSP Asian, Chicago Int’l Documentary, Santa Fe Int’l, Eureka! Film Festival, Midwest Film and Video Festival, Durango, Arizona Int’l, Moab, Women in the Director’s Chair, Washington Jewish, Mill Valley, Flyway, Maryland Int’l, and many more. As a grant administrator for IFP Minnesota, she collaborated with partners from SXSW, Sundance, Tribeca Film Institute, McKnight Foundation, and more. Her creative work ranges from in-depth examination of social justice issues to semi-hilarious food reviews. Previous careers include teaching English in Japan and Greece, computer systems analysis, and degrees in Classics, Linguistics, and Journalism.
Jesse Roesler (Director of Photography, Cambodia)
Emmy award-winning filmmaker whose most recent film The Starfish Throwers is currently screening globally at festivals including Hot Docs and Thessaloniki Doc Fest. Jesse is also the Story Director and Partner at Bolster, a brand engagement agency specializing in digital storytelling across a variety of media.
Matt Ehling (Director of Photography USA)
Matt Ehling is a producer, cinematographer, and writer who works in both television and radio. His original documentary programs have aired on PBS, IFC, and Bravo. His St. Paul-based company, ETS Pictures, produces a variety of television and film work, including material that has been seen on Court TV, PBS, and at the Sundance Film Festival. Matt is a founding member and former board member of the Midwest Media Arts Access Center. His films include Access, a journey into the dark recess of the American psyche via the medium of cable access television, and Forbidden City, an investigation of the growth of privatized, gate-guarded communities in suburban America. He recently helped shoot Of Dolls and Murder, a documentary on dollhouse crime scene dioramas.
Russell Hawkins (Director of Photography, Tasmania, Australia)
Russell Hawkins is an independent filmmaker and cinematographer working on observational documentaries and natural history films.
Russell’s work in Solomon Islands includes Since the Company Cameexploring some unexpected consequences of logging on a Pacific island community. Since the Company Came won awards at Nord-Sud Media Festival (Switzerland), Pärnu Film Festival (Estonia) and Ökomedia Film Festival (Germany).
Russell was co-producer of The Last Valley filmed over five years in an Australian timber community and remote old growth forests. Following an outbreak of violence, loggers and forest activists work together to resolve their differences, only to discover that government bureaucrats are intent on perpetuating the conflict. The Last Valley was selected for the Sydney International Film Festival.
Russell regularly contributes to community film projects promoting conservation, sustainability and human rights.
Hollie Fifer (Director – Uluru Scenes – Australia)
As a director Hollie Fifer’s documentaries are inspired by the true lifestories that aretoo bizarre and courageous to believe. In 2009 Hollie was commissioned by Australian Volunteers International to direct Children of the Rainbow Serpent (NITV) following four Aboriginal young leaders volunteering in southern India. She went onto make her most successful short to date has been Common Ground (SBS) which won Best Foreign Short at the Californian Film Awards, Award of Excellence at the Canada International Film Festival and the Highly Acclaimed Award at Flickerfest.
With recent shorts Corinna and Very Impressive both premiering at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival 2013 and 2014 respectively, Hollie is now wrapping production on her first feature documentary The Opposition set in Papua New Guinea.
Emma Paine (Director of Photography, Sydney, Australia)
Emma’s love of film began in the darkroom, developing an eye for lighting and composition from black and white photography.
Since graduating with a Graduate Diploma in Cinematography from the Australian Film, Television and Radio school in 2011 she has further specialized in shorts, music video, fashion film and branded content.
In 2015 Emma won a NSW and ACT ACS Gold Award for her work on ‘We Will’ and a Silver Award for ‘Infused Honey’ in the Web Content and New Media category.
Chris Strouth (Original Music)
Chris Strouth’s art embraces complexity and explores the frontiers of sound. To bring hisconceptually ambitious work to life, he works in many different media, making him difficult to pigeonhole: He’s a composer, bandleader, filmmaker, writer, producer, designer, experimentalist, culture remixer. Music is at the heart of his work as leader and songwriter of the postmodern ensemble Paris 1919, but it is just one part of the whole—crossing genre borders at will, the group’s performances fuse music, theater, film, performance art, and dance, creating huge, immersive spaces that draw in listeners more deeply and pervasively than sound alone can. The intention is not to overwhelm, but to build a shared intimacy with the audience, bringing them closer to his often introspective and intensely personal music by literally placing them inside the work itself. It’s a way of making potentially difficult or challenging music accessible to a larger audience, and to create a sense of wonder.
Kevin Beacham (Music Supervisor)
Kevin Beacham, a well-known and respected underground Hip Hop
Kevin Beacham, a well-known and respected underground Hip Hopeducator-activist who has spoken around the world on Hip Hop culture, politics, and history, is a Marketing Manager at Fifth Element/Rhymesayers, Co-Director of the Institute for Hip Hop Knowledge at Hamline University, and faculty member at the Institute of Production & Recording.
Another key project that Kevin Beacham has invested a great deal of time in is his RedefineHipHop Initiative. This is a massive undertaking of extensive research, data collections, and archives of all things Hip Hop. After approximately fifteen years of dedication, it is now being developed into a fully functional website.
Kevin plans to continue and cultivate his devotion to Hip Hop Education and assist young minds in understanding not only the importance of Hip Hop, its history and effects on society, but also how they can be involved in the culture as participants, contributors, activists, artists, educators, and a host of other options. Beyond the tools he is already using, Kevin is also now actively offering his extensive experience to schools and community centers with professional and informative lectures.
Dan Sharkey (Titles and Graphics)
Dan Sharkey is the co-founder and principal of Dizzy Giant, a multimedia design company, and has worked as a graphic designer for over fifteen years. He creates compelling motion graphics and more to help filmmakers tell their stories and loves working with anyone who strives to make a positive impact on others. Dan’s work has appeared on CNN, ESPN, PBS, MSNBC, IFC, at numerous film festivals and in theaters worldwide. His film credits include the Emmy award winning The Interrupters, as well as The Homestretch, Saving Mes Aynak, The House of Suh, American Arab, and the critically acclaimed documentary Life Itself about film critic Roger Ebert.
John Sims (Post-Production Sound)
John Sims has been a sound professional in the Minneapolis/ St Paul Film
John Sims has been a sound professional in the Minneapolis/ St Paul Filmand television industry for over twenty years. Working both as a location sound mixer and post production engineer, some of John’s film credits include, A Prairie Home Companion, Thin Ice, Factotum as well as commercial spots for Medica, Kemps Ice Cream, Famous Dave’s, Monday Night Football, and Adidas. As a post production engineer, John has mixed feature films, short films and documentaries at his audio postproduction facility.